The changing face of HIV/AIDS - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

The changing face of HIV/AIDS

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November 13, 2006

Albany--  In two and a half decades, AIDS has killed more than 25 million people worldwide and changed the lives of millions more. 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with HIV each year and an increasing number of those new cases are young people.

People know it exists. "It's scary. It's scary," said Brittany Stalvey. But many don't realize just how real it is.

"You don't realize. You don't realize the people too," said Stalvey. Apostle A.C. Jones-Harris knows first hand how real HIV is.  He heard the life-changing news nearly 30 years ago.

"She said we ran a test and it came back positive," said Jones-Harris. Not just HIV but a case of full-blown AIDS.  He says many things led up to the discovery at the age of 23.

"At that time, I was practicing homosexuality and that started from a childhood molestation," said Jones-Harris. Since then, life has been a roller coaster.

"When you lose 45 pounds in three days, sores break out on your body," said Jones-Harris. It was a test of faith and just like Harris' health and body has changed over the years, so has the face of the people the disease affects.

"The gay white male was the first face of HIV in the United States of America," said John Hopkins with the Southwest Georgia Health District. The disease crossed gender lines and age boundaries and health officials say a new face is emerging, that of the teenage African-American females.

"Our youngest is 14 and pregnant," said Hopkins. John Hopkins with the Southwest Georgia Health District says a big reason is young girls' desire for acceptance and attention from males.

"Mentally and emotionally, they're ready for attachment and the fellas use that against them," said Hopkins. So the best way to get fight it? Hopkins says education and testing.

"The only thing we can do is educate and then hopefully help people to change habits," said Hopkins. Nearly 25 years after being diagnosed, Harris has found a reason to sing.  He considers himself an apostle who's job is to help people change habits.

He's even written a book called "Which Road Should I Take?" "I don't want anybody else subjected to this disease," said Harris. To prevent others from heading down that road, he now relies on another book, the Holy Bible and the armor of not being ashamed of his past.

"I stick my chest out because I'm doing my job," said Harris. It could prevent others from realizing the true reality of a constantly changing disease in the future.

In southwest Georgia, young black men continue to be the number one group affected but the disease crosses all age and color lines. Health officials stress the importance of getting tested and using protection during sex but they say the ultimate protection is abstinence.

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