Rumors demonstrate stigma of HIV

by Associate Life Editor Monday Sanderson

Yik Yak is an anonymous app primarily for college students. Due to the anonymity, it is easy to create rumors without finding out who started them. This is the case when rumors of 11 students infected with HIV circulated on the app in early March.

“Even though I’m not part of the generation which uses this app, I have still heard the rumors,” said Director of University Health Services Teresa Dawson. “Rumors like that can cause a lot of harm to people. (They) cause a lot of damage, and they cause a lot of unnecessary fear.”

People would talk about the rumors in person, said sophomore Rosie McClendon.

“I haven’t read anything on Yik Yak because I don’t have it, but someone told me in person about 11 people on campus having HIV,” she said.

Dawson said it seems like a person who knows nothing about HIV started the rumors.

“We don’t use terms such as ‘outbreak’ when discussing HIV,” she said. “It’s not like the flu where you can sit next to someone coughing and you pick it up.”

She said HIV is a blood-borne virus and only contact with blood or blood products can transmit the disease.

“While there are several ways to transmit the virus, the majority of the cases are because of unprotected sexual intercourse,” she said.

People who are between ages 13 and 24 accounted for 26 percent of new HIV cases in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is not shocking, said freshman Matt Thompson.

“I expect people under the age of 20 to have high cases of HIV,” he said.

Dawson said this is due to casual relationships.

“The education is there to tell you not to casually engage in sexual relationships,” she said. “You don’t know your partner in a casual sexual relationship. However, it is still done. You need to have protected sex primarily through the use of condoms. There are male condoms and female condoms.

Dawson said when she first started working at a university she discovered how little some college students knew about sexually transmitted illnesses.

“One of the things which surprised me when I started working in a university setting is the number of people who do not know that they can contract STIs from oral sex.”

McClendon said it is disappointing that college students are not well educated on this subject.

Thrive is a group in Florence that provides education about HIV, Dawson said.

“They are a federally and grant funded organization, and they provide education, testing and treatment,” she said. “They are part of a program to educate the public and help in high risk populations to get past the stigmas revolving around HIV.”

Thomas said this organization will help many people.

“I don’t know much about HIV, so having this organization is amazing.”

McClendon said she has visited Thrive with friends.

“I think Thrive is a wonderful group,” she said. “They have so many resources, and they’re easily accessible.”

Thrive offers free, confidential HIV tests with no appointments necessary, according to thrivealabama.org.

Dawson said it is important for students to go to any health services to get tested.

“The CDC recommends that people who engage in high risk behavior get tested every three to six months,” she said. “They also recommend that everyone gets a baseline test. Even if you’re not exposed to risky behaviors, it’s good to see if you have the infection.”

She said there are many stigmas surrounding HIV, and others have to address them.

“I think what we all have to realize is that HIV is in the general population,” Dawson said. “We pass people in Wal-Mart, we sit by people in church and likely pass people on this campus who can have it. There is no way to know who has HIV by just looking at them.”