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.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Job

Some people have commented and asked me about my job as a teacher and the fact that I am HIV positive. They want to know if my school, students, parents, etc. know of my condition. Here's a little information, and how I feel about the situation....

By law, I am not required to inform my employer of my HIV status. I am also not required to inform the students or families of the students. All school employees are trained in and required to use Universal Precautions to respond to any situation involving blood/bodily fluids. Universal precautions refers to the practice of avoiding contact with patients' bodily fluids, by means of the wearing of nonporous articles such as medical gloves, goggles, and face shields. Under universal precautions all patients are considered to be possible carriers of blood-borne pathogens. 

In regards to me and my personal situation....

Who knows?
The school district office is aware of my HIV status, but has the file marked Confidential, and is not available to my school, principal, students, families, or anyone else in the public that would request information about me. I did not plan on giving the district the information to begin with, but ended up kind of being forced to because of my Workers' Comp coverage with Peace Corps and some legality that the school district needed to know about any/all previous Workers' Comp claims. They did not want to process me if I would not provide the information. So I finally gave in and told them, chatted with a supervisor, and got the agreement (and witnessed) that the files were marked Confidential. 

No one at my school is aware of my HIV status (to my knowledge). They know that I was in the Peace Corps in Africa, and that I came home early because I got sick. Most people don't ask much more about it. Some do ask what I got sick with, and I play dumb and say "There are so many things over there... parasites, malaria, etc...." and I let their imagination do the work.

There are other teachers, parents, and acquaintances in the school district that I was friends with prior to my HIV and some know about it through being connected to me on Facebook and seeing posts/links there. Others may not know about it if they have not yet stumbled across it on Facebook. 

My students are 3-5 years old and have a range of Autism Spectrum Disorders, Developmental Delays, and Language Impairments. They do not know of my status nor would they comprehend anything about it if someone tried to explain it to them.

Do I feel bad for not telling?
Yes and No. I should not feel guilty for not telling, as I am definitely not obligated or required to tell. However, I do acknowledge that people (parents especially) would be very upset if they found out. I acknowledge that in a way, I am lying (through omission) to them. And that sucks. But, I also have to think about myself and my job, which is my livelihood and my passion. And I firmly believe that if people (school, parents, etc.) knew, then my job would quite possibly be in jeopardy. So, I feel forced to protect myself from that situation.

Do I get worried that someone will find out and be upset?
Yes, of course, every day. But, I really can't control that. There are enough people in the area that know, that I am sure it will come up sooner or later. And when it does, I'll deal with it then.

Do I plan on telling at some later point?
Yes, I have thought about it. I even thought about doing it last month for World AIDS Day, and holding some kind of presentation/information session at a Staff meeting. But, I decided it was too soon. I want people (co-workers, students, parents, employers) to really have a chance to get to know and love me as me, not as a disease. I want them to get to know Jessica, and not just have a first impression of HIV and get scared away.

How do I make sure I am safe at school?
It is easy. I do not bleed on my students. I do not have sex with my students. I do not give birth to or breastfeed my students.

Obviously, accidents can happen, and if I were to get injured, I would immediately separate myself from the students and ensure there was no blood exposure. Honestly, I put on a band-aid even when I get a tiny paper cut! If there EVER was any question of possible exposure, I would immediately inform the school administrators and nurse of the situation and possible threat of exposure.

P.S. We change diapers in my classroom, so we always have gloves around anyways! I also carry gloves in my school bag that travels with us around the school grounds.

Hopefully this answers some of your questions. Please feel free to comment and/or ask more questions. I think I'll put a poll up to see how you all feel about it too....


  1. Jessica, well don't feel guilty about not telling. Like you said using universal precautions should take care of any remote risk. I wouldn't worry about people finding out about it anyway. Like you said, just take it one day at a time. It isn't anybody's business about health issues.

  2. Jessica,

    I have no idea what I would do if I were in your shoes, but I do know that I would want the respect and freedom to be able to tell or not to tell people.

    You do what feels right for you in this situation and whether people agree or disagree with your decision(s) isn't really your problem.

    Stay strong and stay true to you.

    Mary, a concerned reader

  3. In a perfect world it would be wonderful for you to tell them. HIV has such a horrible shame factor attached to it that I think more people need to know someone with the disease. The disease has no conscience and is not a statement of morality. Unfortunately we don't live in that world. If you can be fired for other people's attitudes I change my vote to not telling, because you can never underestimate other's ignorance.

  4. Thanks for sharing this. OSHA and universal precautions exist to protect everyone- you included! :)

  5. great responses - I still have a problem sharing with some of my family members, I listen to them joke about other peoples health. you never know how people would react if you 'came out' especially that their children are in your care long hours.