On July 11, the World Health Organization announced its recommendation for all men who have sex with men (MSM) to begin taking antiretroviral drugs as a precaution to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide. This came as a shock to many Americans who in recent years haven’t read or heard many news stories about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Since the initial HIV/AIDS epidemic started in the 1980s, rates of HIV transmission in the United States have generally remained stable. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it’s estimated that 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV, and that one out of six don’t know that they have HIV.

The group in the United States that remains most affected by HIV/AIDS is MSM. HIV infection in the United States has declined in every group except gay/bisexual men. Rates of HIV infection have actually been increasing among this group. From 2008 to 2010, the rate of new HIV infections for MSM climbed 12 percent. In 2010, MSM made up approximately 4 percent of the U.S. population, but accounted for 63 percent of all new HIV infections.

In 2010, women accounted for 20 percent of all new HIV infections, and 84 percent of these were attributed to heterosexual contact. In that same year, “white MSM continued to account for the largest number of new HIV infections,” according to the CDC.

There are two stigmas at play here: the assumption in the heterosexual population that HIV/AIDS is a gay disease, and the assumption in the white MSM population that HIV/AIDS is a disease associated with minority MSM. The mainstream media today portrays HIV/AIDS in the gay community or in IV drug users. People assume that as long as they aren’t having sex with people from these communities that their risk for HIV isn’t very high. These stigmas, along with the lack of a legitimate sex education, then lead to unsafe sex and not being regularly tested for sexually transmitted infections. In order to stop this unsafe trend, the myths surrounding HIV/AIDS must be dispelled.

One-fourth of new HIV infections occur in youth ages 13 to 24; most of those infected are unknowing, not getting tested/treated and potentially infecting more people. HIV after contraction may or may not produce symptoms. Within two to four weeks after the initial exposure, people may feel flu-like symptoms, but eventually these symptoms subside.

Many people will live years before being diagnosed with HIV or AIDS. In a campus survey our Program on Intergroup Relations class group conducted, only 20 percent of respondents have been tested for STIs in the last three months, and of that 20 percent only 11 percent were also tested for HIV. Common responses for not being tested were that no symptoms are present, or that respondents did not think that they were at risk. Another common response was the stigma that goes along with being tested for HIV. Respondents didn’t want their doctors to think they were gay or having risky sex. This is especially true for bisexual men who, because of society, choose not to get tested and not to tell partners about their encounters with men. The misconceptions around campus about HIV/AIDS are apparent.

HIV/AIDS affects people indiscriminately, and although the only sure way to avoid contracting HIV is through abstinence, there are many ways to greatly reduce your risk. These include using latex or polyurethane condoms/barriers, using water-based lubricant, asking your partner about their sexual history, avoiding alcohol or drugs as they alter the decision-making and choosing lower-risk sexual activities. Frequent STI screenings (that include HIV) are also essential. Although HIV/AIDS is most prominent today in the MSM and African American community, all sexually active people are at risk. Especially when involved with casual sex partners who may not have been tested themselves, or may have lied about their sexual histories. Sleeping with someone is like sleeping with everyone that they’ve ever slept with too.

Transmission of HIV is fully preventable; most of the new cases contracted are due to a lack of knowledge and lack of precaution. There are many great resources in Ann Arbor for both STI testing and safe sex. For more information about STI testing and HIV/AIDS statistics, please visit the CDC website or the UHS website.

Jaikob Djerf is an LSA sophomore and Daniel Madion is an LSA freshman.

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