Have views of HIV and AIDS changed since infiltrating America in the early 1980s? Betty Webber, Clinical Social Worker for the Pontotoc County Health Department, says no.

“I grew up in Indiana, and Ryan White only lived about 30 miles from where I grew up," she said. "I can remember how scared my mom was."

Thirteen-year-old Ryan White became the international face of what it meant to be infected with AIDS. Contracting the virus through blood-based products used to treat his hemophilia, White was discriminated against by his peers, school and community in Indiana. His case was also a rarity at the time, as he didn't obtain HIV through intravenous drug use or sexual contact.

"We couldn't even shop in that town anymore because my mom just knew that if we even breathed in the air, we'd get HIV," Webber said. "And I remember how stupid I thought that was as a child. But I remember how mean and cruel people were to that poor child who needed a blood transfusion and ended up with HIV and AIDS. Have people's attitudes changed a whole lot about it? No they haven't. They are still scared to death of people that they might think have AIDS or HIV like it's just going to jump across the table. We know that it doesn't. People's attitudes ... I wish I could say they're getting so much better, but they're not. They're still really scared of the unknown. The mentality of people, they don't really want to be educated on it or they don't want to understand it and so, the fear of the unknown, that's kind of the way it is."

Although people may not want to be educated or recognize that the disease is closer to home than what they think, the fact still remains that both HIV and AIDS are claiming lives. Webber said testing is now part of donating blood.

"I wish we were having more and more people tested," she said. "So many people don't know what their status is. We are getting a little more aggressive about testing. When you give blood at the blood institute, they test your blood for HIV and let you know. I think we have one of the safest blood sources here in Oklahoma of any place.

"A lot of people used to think, that when we got marriage licenses and have to give blood for that, that they were being tested for HIV. They weren't. Syphillus was the only thing they were being tested for. A lot of people think they were tested for HIV every time they give blood, but you're not. You have to specifically say you want to be tested for HIV."

According to Webber, while black females are currently the biggest group coming into contact with HIV and AIDS nationally, homosexual men are still the primary carriers locally, although she's noticed a rise in heterosexual couples.

"We're seeing a bigger rise in heterosexual relationships, because women always think that men are just having sex with them and they've never had sex with anyone else," she said. "As we know, that's not always true. Women usually have sex with more than one person now, and that's how it usually gets transferred."

She also shared about the times that she has had to give someone the news that they were HIV positive. "Everyone reacts a little differently when they're told they're positive," Webber said. "My very first person ate their test results. I had a little piece of paper and showed it to them and they just grabbed it and ate it.

Some people just sit there and look at you. Some immediately start crying. Some start crying before you even give them the test results. Some people want to make a phone call immediately, while others say they want to be retested. There could be a problem with it, although that's probably only about one percent of the time, because before they sent it down that it's positive, they've already done three tests on it."

Signs and symptoms will vary when someone is HIV positive, although common conditions are rashes, fever and rapid weight loss.

"When you first get HIV, the symptoms start out like a cold, so it's really hard to tell that it's even going on," Webber said. "After it's been in your bloodstream for a while, that's when you start having more signs of HIV, which is usually mutating into AIDS, that's what's happening there. If you can't really find anything that's really wrong with you, ask for an HIV test."

For more information regarding AIDS or HIV, contact the Pontotoc County Health Department at (580) 332-2011.

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