I am 28. White. A Female. And a former Peace Corps Volunteer. I am HIV Positive. This is my story of how a few months, a few people, and a few events in Zambia changed me and my life forever. This is the story of how I contracted HIV and brought my Peace Corps Journey to a crashing halt... and how I am working now to pick up and put back together the pieces of my life as a newly diagnosed person living with HIV. This was not the journey I had originally planned... my path has traumatically and dramatically changed... but it is the one I am on now. There is no going back. There is only forward. I welcome you to follow along with me as I attempt to explore this new life ahead of me, whether you are someone from the Peace Corps community, or someone living with HIV. I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions, and opinions. Let us go forward together. To start from the beginning, click here He Gave Me More Than A Bracelet.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Welcomed Surprise!

I logged into my bank account today, and found to my surprise a considerable lump of extra unexpected money! Woohoo! Where did it come from you might ask? Well, I cannot say for certain, because it is all written in code... but as far I as I can decipher, I think this is my money from my Peace Corps bank account in Zambia finally being transferred over to me! I had attempted to find out for months where my money had gone to, and if I would ever get it back, but unfortunately I made no progress with getting any answers from Zambia PC. I finally just gave up on it altogether a few months ago, figuring that their lack of response meant that I wouldn't be getting it back. Well, I still haven't heard anything from them... but based on the amount deposited, and the account code being similar to the code used when my readjustment allowance was deposited, my only conclusion is that this must be my money. Again, I say, Woohoo!

Updates For This Week...

So, a few things have happened this week, that I feel I should share here.

First, my nanny job will be ending on April 26th, as the family will be moving away. I knew when taking this job that it would just be temporary, so there are no surprises here. Anyways, this has caused me to restart my job search yet again. In the past weeks, I have applied to a few nanny jobs, as well as various community and HIV outreach jobs. This week, I received an e-mail from one such organization stating that they liked my cover letter and resume and would like to set up an interview for their HIV Outreach Specialist position. So, I have an interview scheduled for next week! Wish me luck!

The second e-mail that I received earlier this week was from my Peace Corps International Health Coordinator (in response to an e-mail I had sent her the week prior). This e-mail was in regards to my possibilities of reinstatement. She discussed my case with the Medical Office, and has let me know that if I do in fact apply for reinstatement, that the Medical Office would like me to maintain my undetectable viral load and CD4 >500 from now through June. If I can maintain these results for this period of time, then the Medical Office will feel comfortable in granting me clearance to reinstate. This was surely great news, and honestly, much less of a battle than I had expected! Although nothing is for certain, I will continue to communicate with them more about this as time passes...

Finally, I had a doctor's appointment yesterday. In all honesty, it seemed kind of a waste of time. I am not even sure why they wanted me to have an appointment, other than the fact that I did not meet the actual Doctor last month, and this time they had him come in and talk to me for all of 2 minutes. During this 2 minutes he gave me information about HIV, as if I know nothing about my illness. I guess I shouldn't get upset about this, as he is just doing his job, and he probably has lots of patients that don't know anything about it. But still, it kind of makes you feel like crap, like you are pre-judged to be unaware and unintelligent. I don't know, maybe it's just me that feels this way lol. I expected to have lab work done again (like usual), but they said no, they were going to put me on the 3 month schedule for lab work now that I had reached undetectable. So, why this appointment? I have no idea. Oh well. So, I guess now I will go back in during May for a full appointment and lab work...

Thursday, March 29, 2012


So, a few weeks ago, an intern from the Stigma Action Network contacted me and asked if I would be interested in writing a guest blog entry for their website. I immediately said yes, and she asked if I could focus on anything that I've experienced so far, internally or externally, which I have felt was stigmatizing. So, I worked on writing something, and my response came in the form of a poem (yeah, I don't know when I decide all the sudden that I'm going to attempt to be a poet lol). My poem about stigma was posted on the Stigma Action Network's blog 2 days ago, but I will also post it here for my readers. Please check out their blog after reading here!

I want to preface this by saying, please read this objectively. Know that I simply wrote honestly and truthfully about what I've experienced so far. I do not intend to offend or hurt anyone in doing so. Please know that just because I have mentioned something or someone here does not mean that I am upset or angry with them. I know that most of this stuff is/was never intentional or meant to be hurtful. But, it did happen. It was said. Stigma is around us, whether intentional or not.

Stigma is not just one thing.
Stigma is many things.
It comes in the form of words, thoughts, actions, attitudes, looks, and in my own imagination.
Stigma may be different for you than it is for me.

Stigma is when your uncle says, “Hmmm… I didn’t think we had those kind of people around here”.
When your grandmothers says, “Oh, bi-sexual ones are the worst! They just spread it to everyone!”
When your sister says, “Oh my gosh. I would freak out if my kid’s babysitter had HIV!”

Stigma is when your family and friends suddenly think you are sickly and weaker than everyone else…
“Oh that is a long day… you must be tired.”
“Are you sure you can handle doing that?”
“Oh, you just can’t get up early in the morning anymore.”
“No, we can’t come over if ****** has a cold… we wouldn’t want Jessica to get sick.”

Stigma is when you have to lie or hide things from people out of fear of their reactions.
When you awkwardly have to come up with an excuse during job interviews about why you got sick and had to leave your previous job.
When you have to cover your tracks and delete your browsing history lest your employer find out that you have HIV.
When you must hide your last name from social networking sites so that Google and the whole world can’t find out your secret.

Stigma is when, no matter your level of education, people suddenly see you as stupid and lesser of a person.
When they repeatedly ask you, “How could you have been so stupid to make those mistakes?”
When they assume you must have either been raped or be a drug user or a prostitute.
When a pharmacist or doctor looks and talks down to you.

Stigma is when you see a parent slightly cringe when their child puts his fingers near or in your mouth.
When you notice the startled look on an old friend’s face when you reach to take a sip from his drink.
When someone wonders if they must warn a family friend of your status before bringing you to visit that person’s house.
When people don’t say anything at all because they feel it is awkward or taboo to talk about.

Stigma is when you feel ashamed for being a sexual person.
When you refrain from flirting with someone because you assume it would be a waste of time and just later lead to rejection.
When 67% of people say on a poll that they probably wouldn’t be willing to date you.

Stigma is when you feel guilty for your past choice(s).
When you feel you will always have to attempt to prove yourself and make up for it now.
When the world thinks they know you just because of those 3 letters. H-I-V.
When they don’t care who or what you were before or what you will be after- to them you will always just be HIV.

This is stigma for me.
The little things, whether intentional or not.
The looks, the words, the thoughts, the attitudes.
Most of it stems from fear and a lack of knowledge.
Some of it is just inside me.
I don’t know if it will ever be gone.
It is just there,
And maybe it always will be.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Today's High School Speaking

I went (as mentioned last week) to a local high school today to speak to the students in the health classes there. We spoke to 5 class periods, totaling about 98 kids. It went really well, and I hope that they found some value in my story and the other information that we presented. They were very well behaved, receptive, and had lots of great questions! I look forward to more opportunities like this one!

Here are some of the questions they asked, and the answers we gave:
(I know there were more, but this is just what I can remember off the top of my head.)

* Have you been in contact with the guy?
Yes, at first. He was eventually tested and turned out to be HIV positive. From further communication, we found that it was likely that he may have contracted HIV when he had sex with another woman just a few months before me. We no longer communicate. He also has a new girlfriend/fiancé that may not know of his HIV status.

* Can/do people with HIV still have sex?
Many people with HIV feel a guilt or shame about sex after being diagnosed with the disease. For this reason, I know many who may choose not to have sex for months or years after getting it, until they are better able to accept and come to terms with the diagnosis. Some HIV+ people choose to seek out other HIV+ people because it may be easier and they do not have to worry about disclosure or other things as much. Many HIV+ people have relationships with people who do not have HIV. These couples can have safe, happy, healthy relationships and sex lives for years (or forever) without infecting one another.

* Do you feel like it is unfair that you got it?
No. I don’t blame anyone other than myself. I made the choice. Does it suck? Yes, of course. One of the first poems I wrote, entitled “Punishment” talks a bit about how I first thought that maybe this was my punishment for stereotyping and judging others’ behaviors.

* Why did your first 2 tests come back negative?
The initial tests that they do are actually testing for HIV antibodies, not the actual virus itself. Because it was so early in my infection, my body had not yet developed antibodies to the HIV. The next tests that were done were a different kind, ones that actually tested for the virus itself, and this is how they then knew that I was HIV+.

* Can you still pass HIV to someone else if your viral load is undetectable?
Yes, even though your viral load is undetectable, you still have the virus, and you can still pass it to others. Also, a viral load test measures the amount of virus in a blood sample. The amount of virus in your vaginal fluids or semen may hold a different amount of virus than your blood does.

* Can you have a baby without giving it HIV?
Yes, HIV+ women can have babies. If the woman is on medication, has an undetectable viral load, and the baby takes medication for the first 6 weeks after birth, there is less than a 2% chance of the baby having HIV.

* How would an HIV+ person get pregnant?
HIV+ people take many routes to getting pregnant. Some take the risk and do it the old fashioned way (unprotected sex). Others go with a medical route and use techniques such as in-vitro and sperm washing. Still others attempt home remedies, such as injecting the woman with semen using a turkey baster or a condom turned inside out.

* Can you drink/do drugs with your medication?
With my medication, Atripla, I am allowed to drink, but it is not recommended that I drink in excess. I have not gotten “drunk” since my diagnosis and starting on treatment. I have never done drugs, so I can’t answer that. Also, if a person drinks or does drugs in excess, it could lead to their HIV medication not working properly and/or them building up HIV drug resistance.

* Is your medicine expensive?
Yes, very. One month supply of my medication costs about $2,000.

* Do you regret joining/going into the Peace Corps?
No, I don’t regret joining the Peace Corps. I regret making a choice that ultimately made me lose my dream of completing the Peace Corps.

* Can you get HIV from drinking from someone’s water bottle?

* Can you get HIV from kissing someone on the cheek?
No, You can not get it from hugging, touching, or kissing. I could even spit on you, and you wouldn’t get it.

* Can you use a male condom and a female condom together?
No, you should not use both a male and female condom at the same time. When they rub together, it will be easier for them to rip or break.

* Are there some days when you feel worse/more sick than others?
No, medically, I am just as healthy as you are right now. My immune system is now at a normal level, and I have no current medical issues to worry about. If I stop taking my medicine or if it stops working, then I may be at risk of becoming more susceptible to developing illnesses.

* Do you have side effects from your medicine?
No. My medicine, Atripla, often gives people a drunk or dizzy feeling after taking it. However, for most people this side effect wears off after taking it for about a month. I no longer feel this side effect. However, for some people, like my roommate (who has been taking Atripla for 4 years), he still gets this drunk/dizzy feeling many nights.

* In addition to the one pill each night, do you have to take any other medicines?
No, I currently only need to take my one Atripla pill each day. In the first few months of my sickness, I had to take other antibiotics to prevent pneumonia and thrush/yeast infections, but I no longer require these at this time.

* Does the guy have to ejaculate in the girl’s mouth for HIV to be passed?
No, not necessarily. Pre-cum may also contain HIV, so even without ejaculation, there is some risk that HIV could be passed by pre-cum.

* If you have unprotected sex with someone with HIV, will you definitely get it?
No, you will not automatically get HIV if you have sex with an HIV+ person once. But you could. There is no way of knowing or predicting whether you will get it or not. You should never take the chance.

* What is a dental dam?
A dental dam is a barrier used for performing oral sex on a woman. You place it on a woman’s vagina, and then give her oral sex.

* What is/how do you use a female condom?
A female condom is an alternative to a male condom. It is inserted into the woman’s vagina. Female condoms may be used if the male does not/will not wear a condom. Some people may prefer it, some may not. Female condoms are not as effective as male condoms, and they can more easily slip or move around during sex.

Friday, March 23, 2012

"Abandoned By Peace Corps"

So, my Peace Corps Recruiter sent me a link yesterday on Facebook about a group that has been created by Medically Separated Peace Corps Volunteers. Apparently, Peace Corps Regional Offices have become aware of this group and have alerted the recruiters about it. I have browsed the group's website, but still need some more time to read through it in depth.

I am not exactly sure whether it is a good thing or not. I will admit that there are some good points on this group's website about difficulties with the Department of Labor and FECA claims/processing. However, from my experience so far, it is mostly on the DOL side of things, not the Peace Corps.

And honestly, I don't understand enough of the legalities or workings of it all to know whether or not Peace Corps should be playing a bigger role in supporting RPCVs once their cases have been passed to the DOL. Therefore, I wouldn't go as far to say that Peace Corps has "abandoned" me.

Would it be nice to have a representative from Peace Corps helping me deal with all of these FECA issues (i.e. not a single one of my medical bills actually being paid for yet)? Yes, certainly. But, then again, is it really their responsibility? I have no idea.

Anyways, I do no not intend to start up or join in any controversy with this post, but rather just disseminate some information and allow others to look into it and make up their own minds about it. So, if you are interested, here is the website of the group: Abandoned By Peace Corps

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Serial Killers"

My roommate and I had a conversation after watching the film shared below, Angels in the Dust. There is a part of the film where the orphanage owner gets quite angry and upset about a man named Thabo, who has transmitted HIV to numerous women in the village. He continues to move from one woman to the next, and they are starting to notice this trail of women dying, after they have been with Thabo. The orphanage owner gets quite upset about this and calls Thabo a "Serial Killer".

Anyways, my roommate brought this up to me and said that during this part of the film, he couldn't help thinking about my situation, and wondering if my guy in Zambia "knowingly" passed the virus to me, and how does that make me feel?

The only response that I can give is: I have to admit that there are times when I think about this, and I have to admit the possibility that he knew he had it, and that he lied to me. But, the majority of the time, and the majority of me, still feels and believes that he did not know or do it intentionally. There is only a small percentage of me that feels that maybe he did know. However, at this point in time, I feel that I will never know the true answer to this question. Furthermore, I don't feel that it is productive to dwell on this part of my story. I'll never know. We don't communicate anymore. And if I did know, what difference would it make? Either way, it happened. I still have HIV. My focus now is to accept that and move on with my healing process.

I did explain to my roommate though, that this part of the film did affect me, and not specifically because of my story and situation. It affected me because I lived in Africa, and I witnessed this exact kind of thing happen. I actually met men who had had three successive wives die, and now were on to a fourth wife. Men who the whole village "knew" were sick, but never talked about it. They never said HIV there. They just said, "Oh yes, when that man has a woman, she then gets sick and dies". Just like that, just a fact of life.

I don't know if I would go as far as the orphanage owner to call these men "serial killers". Yes, it makes me angry and sad to know that this happens. It makes me angry that the women, the villages, and the men themselves don't do anything to prevent or stop it. But, I also know that, as an outsider to their culture, their situations, and their relationships, I have no right to judge them and their actions. There is so much more that can add to the complexity of these situations, that we cannot just assume that we understand or can do something to change it.

Please stay tuned for more related to this topic and "HIV Criminalization"...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Angels in the Dust

As I scrolled through Netflix last night, I randomly came upon this movie, Angels in the Dust. It is a full length documentary about a South African couple that took all of their savings and moved from Johannesburg into a village and started a school and orphanage there. The film is incredibly raw and emotional as it tells the stories of children orphaned due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and of many children who have HIV/AIDS themselves. They share their stories of rape, betrayal, sickness, and death with the audience, as the school/orphanage owners work to help anyone and everyone that comes to them for help. I'm not sure what else to say about the film, it pretty much left me speechless. Please, if you have any interest in Africa, HIV/AIDS, orphans, or development work, make it a movie night and check out this film.

Here is the trailer for the film:

Or watch the full film here:

100+ Countries Today!

I added the 100th country to the list today! Yay!
We also went over 100 Followers a few days ago!
And almost to 100,000 views!
  1. Afghanistan
  2. Albania
  3. Algeria
  4. Angola
  5. Anguilla
  6. Antigua & Barbados
  7. Argentina
  8. Armenia
  9. Aruba
  10. Australia
  11. Austria
  12. Azerbaijan
  13. Bahamas
  14. Bahrain
  15. Bangladesh
  16. Barbados
  17. Belgium
  18. Belize
  19. Benin
  20. Bermuda
  21. Bhutan
  22. Bolivia
  23. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  24. Botswana
  25. Brazil
  26. Brunei Darussalam
  27. Bulgaria
  28. Burkina Faso
  29. Burundi
  30. Cambodia
  31. Cameroon
  32. Canada
  33. Cape Verde
  34. Chile
  35. China
  36. Colombia
  37. Congo
  38. Costa Rica
  39. Cote d'Ivoire
  40. Croatia
  41. Cuba
  42. Cyprus
  43. Czech Republic
  44. Denmark
  45. Djibouti
  46. Dominica
  47. Dominican Republic
  48. Ecuador
  49. Egypt
  50. El Salvador
  51. Estonia
  52. Ethiopia
  53. Falkland Islands
  54. Fiji
  55. Finland
  56. France
  57. Gambia
  58. Georgia
  59. Germany
  60. Ghana
  61. Greece
  62. Grenada
  63. Guam
  64. Guatemala
  65. Guersney
  66. Guyana
  67. Haiti
  68. Honduras
  69. Hong Kong
  70. Hungary
  71. Iceland
  72. India
  73. Indonesia
  74. Iraq
  75. Ireland
  76. Isle of Man
  77. Israel
  78. Istanbul
  79. Italy
  80. Jamaica
  81. Japan
  82. Jordan
  83. Kazakhstan
  84. Kenya
  85. Korea
  86. Kuwait
  87. Kyrgyzstan
  88. Latvia
  89. Lebanon
  90. Lesotho
  91. Liberia
  92. Lithuania
  93. Macau
  94. Macedonia
  95. Madagascar
  96. Malawi
  97. Malaysia
  98. Maldives
  99. Mali
  100. Malta
  101. Marshall Islands
  102. Martinique
  103. Mauritius
  104. Mexico
  105. Micronesia
  106. Moldova
  107. Mongolia
  108. Morocco
  109. Mozambique
  110. Myranmar
  111. Namibia
  112. Netherlands
  113. New Zealand
  114. Nicaragua
  115. Niger
  116. Nigeria
  117. Norway
  118. Oman
  119. Pakistan
  120. Panama
  121. Paraguay
  122. Peru
  123. Philippines
  124. Poland
  125. Portugal
  126. Puerto Rico
  127. Qatar
  128. Reunion 
  129. Russia
  130. Rwanda
  131. Saint Lucia
  132. Samoa
  133. Saudi Arabia
  134. Senegal
  135. Serbia
  136. Sierra Leone
  137. Singapore
  138. Slovakia
  139. Slovenia
  140. South Africa
  141. South Korea
  142. Spain
  143. Sri Lanka
  144. St. Kitts & Nevis
  145. St Vincent & Grenadines
  146. Suriname
  147. Swaziland
  148. Sweden
  149. Switzerland
  150. Taiwan
  151. Tanzania
  152. Thailand
  153. Togo
  154. Trinidad & Tobago
  155. Tunisia
  156. Turkey
  157. Turks and Caicos Islands
  158. Uganda
  159. Ukraine
  160. United Arab Emirates
  161. United Kingdom
  162. United States
  163. Venezuela
  164. Vietnam
  165. Virgin Islands
  166. Yemen
  167. Zambia
  168. Zimbabwe
Updated: January 30, 2013

    Sunday, March 18, 2012

    Upcoming Opportunity

    I am very excited about an opportunity that I have coming up next week. I will be accompanying a nurse from the Pediatric Infectious Disease clinic to a local high school to speak to the students there.

    We will spend the whole day (7:30am- 2:30pm) speaking to students in the Health classes. The nurse will share some basic HIV information, and then I will share a bit of my story and some additional information.

    If this event is successful, then we will hopefully repeat it again at other high schools in the area. So excited!

    Friday, March 16, 2012

    Today's Art Project

    So, since me and my roommate are both HIV+, we tend to have a lot HIV magazines laying around. So, the other day, I felt creative and decided to start cutting them up and saving quotes, pictures, etc. that I liked. I bought some Modge Podge, and today's art project was to make some collages. Enjoy!

    Poll Results: Did your parents talk to you about HIV, STDs, pregnancy, safe sex, etc.?

    A total of 85 voters responded to the question: Did your parents talk to you about HIV, STDs, pregnancy, safe sex, etc.?

    9 (10%): Yes, a lot.
    17 (20%): Yes, some.
    30 (35%): Only a very little.
    29 (34%): No, never.

    Wednesday, March 14, 2012

    A Few Questions and Answers

    I attended a youth HIV Educational/Planning Meeting last week. The meeting was focused on providing basic HIV information and then discussing possibilities for future youth (age 13-24) education/awareness events.

    Well, there were about 10-15 young teens there, who are meant to become peer mentors/educators... and they had some pretty interesting questions about HIV, some of which I don't think the presenter quite answered clearly enough. So, I wanted to touch on them here, just so there are not any misconceptions floating around...

    Question: Is green or smelly stuff coming from your genitals a sign of HIV?
    Answer: No, a discolored or smelly discharge coming from your genitals is not a usual symptom of HIV. However, it may be a sign of another infection or STD, and it is important that you discuss it with your doctor.

    Question: If you have blood in your pee does that mean you might have HIV?
    Answer: No, having blood in your pee (urine) is not a usual symptom of HIV. However, it may be a sign of another infection or STD, and it is important to discuss it with your doctor.

    Question: Are STDs curable?
    Answer: Some STDs are curable, and some STDs are not curable. Examples of curable STDs are chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis. Examples of non-curable STDs are HIV, Herpes, HPV/genital warts, and Hepatitis.

    Question: Do boys really have sex with other boys? How do they do that?
    Answer: Yes, some boys do have sex with other boys. They may participate in a number of different sexual activities, including mutual masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, etc.

    Question: If you share a lollipop with a friend, can you get HIV?
    Answer: No, you do not get HIV from sharing food or lollipops with other people.

    Question: If someone keeps getting sick and is losing a lot of weight, do you think they have HIV?
    Answer: A person can get sick and lose weight for many different reasons. It does not necessarily mean they have HIV. They may have HIV, or they may have some other disease or illness.

    Although some of these questions might seem a bit humorous at first, they were totally serious questions coming from 13, 14, and 15 year olds, and I think they deserve to have clear correct serious answers.

    Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    Letter From the Director

    Officially Replaced

    So, I have a friend (a fellow Medevac from DC actually) who was medically separated from her first country (Guinea)... and !surprise! then reassigned to Zambia. So, she left for Zambia in January as part of the Education group, exactly one year after me! Well, I've been keeping in touch with her as she goes through training, and I just heard that they found out their site placements yesterday...

    She is going to a different Province than I was in, but she was able to tell me who is replacing me at my site.

    Yep, that's right, as of yesterday, I am officially replaced. As I write this, the new girl is visiting my old site, house, family, friends, and coworkers... and probably rifling through all of the junk left in my hut lol. Hopefully it's not too much of a mess (but I bet it is)... but, on the bright side, she's already got some supplies and won't need to buy as much...
    Hope she loves it!


    I have had some people ask me some questions about drug resistance, and other issues that are related. So, let me do my best to explain it a bit better. I've been meaning to write this post for awhile...

    "Resistance" in HIV talk refers to the reduction in effectiveness of ARV medications in fighting the virus within a person's body. When the virus is able to mutate, it then develops resistance to a medication or group of medications. When the virus is resistant to the medication, the medication stops working to control the virus. This leads to treatment failure, and the need to switch to new medications. Resistance can happen in a variety of ways (this may not be an exhaustive list):
    • Poor treatment adherence: taking medications at the wrong time or in the wrong way, skipping doses, etc. (This is much similar to when a person is on any antibiotics or other medications... when a person skips doses or doesn't take them at the correct time each day, the level of medication within their system decreases, and therefore allows the illness to mutate and the medication to lose its effectiveness)
    • Being infected with a resistant strain of HIV: this means someone passes their resistance to you (this can happen the first time a person is infected with HIV or happen to an already HIV+ person who is reinfected with a different strain of the virus). 
    • Drugs, alcohol, smoking, diarrhea, or other medications: these all can interact with HIV medications and decrease the absorption level or level of medicine in the body
    All HIV+ people are usually "Resistance Tested" prior to starting treatment. This resistance testing will tell the doctors whether a person's specific strain of HIV is resistant to certain medications or combinations of medications. This helps the doctors and patient to choose the best treatment option. Once a person is resistant to a certain medication, it is likely that that medication will never work or be able to be used for that patient again. Some people (through the factors listed above) may continue to build up resistance to many different medications during their life, and must keep "going down the list" to a new/different medication option. We are lucky that there are MANY MANY different types of HIV medications, but resistance is still a very dangerous thing.

    Now a friend asked me a question, "So is it safe for you to have unprotected sex with another HIV+ person, since you both have HIV?". The answer is "NO", and let me elaborate a little more on why...

    Let's say that "John" has had HIV for 10 years. During that time he has had very poor adherence. He often forgets to take his medicine or takes it many hours later than he should. He also tends to drink and smoke a lot. Due to some of these activities, John has already developed resistance to 3 different HIV medications.

    Now, John meets "Sue", who is HIV negative. John and Sue have unprotected sex, and Sue become HIV+. When Sue goes to her first doctor's appointment to discuss treatment options, they do resistance testing on her. The resistance test shows that Sue's strain of HIV is resistant to 3 medications (the same 3 that John is resistant to). Unfortunately, Sue has not only been infected with HIV, but John's resistance has also passed on to her. Because of this, Sue (from day one) will never be able to use those 3 medications.

    Now, John meets me (Jessica). I have had HIV for 6 months, and I am taking a medication called Atripla. My strain of HIV is not currently resistant to any medications. I can take any and all of them, and they should work. John and I decide to have unprotected sex, because we figure we both already have HIV, what should we have to worry about? Unfortunately, there is a chance that I can, in essence, be "reinfected" with John's strain of HIV, and along with it his resistance. I could suddenly go from having no resistance, to being resistant to 3 medications. Furthermore, IF one of the 3 drugs John is resistant to is in Atripla (my medication), my medication may stop working, and I may have to switch to a new medicine.

    As you can see, drug resistance is a big deal, and a very dangerous thing, both for people with HIV and for people without...

    Addition 3/7/2012: 
    My sister asked yesterday after reading this post, "Can resistance eventually happen to a person even when they do everything right (i.e. proper adherence, etc.)?" I answered her at first with "As far as I know, No, it shouldn't. If a person always takes their medication as prescribed, and no other of the above mentioned situations lead to resistance, then a person should be able to stay on one medication and have it continue working. I do not believe that resistance can naturally build up over time."

    However... I just did a bit more research into it... and it seems that I was wrong... because HIV is always mutating, there are always variant forms of HIV being created in your body (even though they are small lesser amounts than the wild type virus)... but, because of these natural mutations, it is possible that resistance may at some point develop even if someone is doing everything right. You can read more of the scientific explanation on this website. Also, here are some good tips about preventing resistance from developing:
    •  Learn all you can about anti-HIV drugs. The more you know, the easier it will be to make treatment choices that help you avoid drug resistance. Reading the information on this web site about anti-HIV medicine is a good first step.
    •  Start treatment with a powerful anti-HIV regimen. Your first shot at anti-HIV treatment is probably your best chance at fully suppressing the virus and preventing the development of drug resistance. 
    •  Be sure to follow instructions. It is very important that HIV-positive people take their anti-HIV medication exactly as prescribed. Missing doses, not taking the right number of pills, or eating when pills need to be taken on an empty stomach, can all cause viral load to increase and cause drug-resistance mutations to develop.
    •  Communicate with your doctor. Knowing how to take your medicine properly and reporting any problems to your doctor are important for avoiding drug resistance.
    •  Monitor the effects of your drugs frequently just after you begin, and regularly throughout your treatment. Often an increasing viral load is the first sign that drug resistance is developing. Also, there are reports of people being infected with drug-resistant HIV. Monitoring viral load is a good way to guard against drug resistance. 
    One other note that I forgot to mention in my post yesterday is that it is easier to develop resistance to some HIV medications than others. For example, I am on Atripla, which is one of the #1 most recommended treatments, but it also happens to be one of the easiest to develop resistance to (if not taken properly). 

    Poll Results: Did you receive HIV/AIDS Education in school?

    A total of 125 voters responded to the question: Did you receive HIV/AIDS Education in school?
    17 (13%): Yes, extensive.
    79 (63%): Yes, some.
    16 (12%): No.
    13 (10%): No (I'm too old).
    Thanks for responses! I'm glad to know that most voters received at least some HIV/AIDS Education in school :-)
    I'm running low on poll questions. Anyone have any ideas?