All across the landscape of pop culture, comedians like Sarah Silverman and movies like Team America: World Police (2004) have embraced the HIV/AIDS joke as one of the more beloved parts of their repertoires.
Maybe this trend reflects the cultural fad of embracing political incorrectness. When Ann Coulter remains one of the most highly attended speakers at St. Olaf, this explanation is not without merit.
But could it also simply reflect the decline of the epidemic within the United States beginning its arrival in the 1980s? After all, the sex education programs, clean needle exchanges, free testing facilities and improvement in treatment for the disease have significantly decreased both the deadliness and prevalence of the virus since its discovery. Maybe HIV/AIDS is no longer a concern to people in the United States In fact, a speaker on campus last year claimed just that, suggesting that since we have basically eradicated the virus in America, we can now focus on curbing the spread of the epidemic in other countries.
Earlier this week, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued an HIV/AIDS wake up call for all Americans, urging everyone aged 13-64 be tested for their HIV status. The rationale behind the new routine HIV tests is based on the changing demographics of people affected by the virus. People at risk for contracting the virus are no longer limited to marginalized populations. Increasingly at risk for contracting the virus are women, communities of color and the sexually active heterosexual community.
According to estimates from the CDC, approximately one quarter of all U.S. adults who are HIV positive are unaware of their status. In fact, about 40,000 Americans contract the virus every year; and, according to the Minnesota AIDS Project, over 300 of those new cases are Minnesotans. Obviously, we are far from eradicating the virus in the United States While the incidence of the disease in the country is less than what it once was, this rate has finally leveled and has not improved since 1999, says the CDC.
Here in the St. Olaf bubble, it's easy to think ourselves immune to the virus. Many students don't know anyone who has tested positive, and might not see themselves as at risk. Perceptions of the virus as a disease affecting only intravenous drug users and men who have sex with men have persisted, allowing for dangerous attitudes of invincibility in people outside these demographics.
While the new guidelines from the CDC aren't intended to cause panic among everyone, they should remind us that we're not invincible. Know your status and always play safe.
Remember that you can contract HIV through blood, semen (including pre-seminal fluid), breast milk and vaginal secretions. You can't contract HIV through saliva, sweat, feces, tears, vomit or urine. You can contract HIV through unprotected anal, vaginal and even oral sex. You can't contract HIV through masturbation (including both mutual and solo gigs). HIV can enter your body through mucous membranes, open cuts and sores, but not intact skin.
If you think you may have been exposed to the virus and need to be tested, the availability, speed and quality of testing procedures has dramatically improved over the years. You have a lot of options in getting tested.
Most clinics offer both blood tests and oral fluid tests for the virus. Rapid versions of theses tests produce results in about 20 minutes. The Red Door Clinic in Minneapolis (525 Portland Avenue South) offers both of these HIV tests and also performs tests for other STDs for a suggested donation of only $20.
Home testing kits, which are available at most drug stores, allow you to test yourself at home and send in a sample of your blood for confidential testing. Keep in mind that the Home Access kit is the only the FDA approved test.
Because of these new guidelines, your doctor may soon be asking you if you'd like to be tested as part of a check-up. However, if you are looking for a specific type of HIV test near you, www.hivtest.org matches your preferences for location, type of test and level of anonymity and confidentiality. Likewise, the Minnesota AIDS Project keeps a hotline for any questions about the virus and about testing facilities at 800-248-AIDS.
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