Most Oklahomans know how you get HIV/AIDS, but does the younger generation? 

The younger generation has grown up with a mentality that you can take a pill for anything and be OK, said Mary Arbuckle, director of Other Options Inc., an organization that helps provide or locate resources to help those with HIV/AIDS.

"It's getting really scary," Arbuckle said.

She said her organization is seeing an influx of HIV-positive people aged 16 to 25.

"Trying to get that mentality out of them is starting to be a challenge," Arbuckle said. "They don't understand what living with (HIV/AIDS) is like."

What it's like is spending anywhere from $316 to $2,680 per month for a variety of about 27 drugs to help fight the virus, always worrying about building too much resistance to a particular drug. What it's like can be isolation and rejection. What it's like is having to worry about every possible challenge to your immune system. What it's like is having to tell a potential lover that you're HIV-positive.

It's not likely to go away any time soon.

At this time, there is no cure or vaccine, said Jan Fox, HIV/STD service chief at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

"There is some promising research going on, so we're hopeful," Fox said. "But I don't think there's anything soon on the horizon. We know approximately half of all people who are infected in Oklahoma are not receiving care for the disease," she said, partially because of availability of treatment and also because of the economy. "People have become less worried and concerned about the disease."

'Act aware'
Wednesday is World AIDS Day, with a goal of building awareness and a theme of "Act Aware." The year 2011 will be the 30th anniversary of AIDS.

Thousands of organizations and individuals will observe the 22nd annual World AIDS Day " locally, that ranges from Other Options Inc. to RAIN Oklahoma to Mac Cosmetics AIDS Fund and several more.

On World AIDS Day, those who lost their lives to the epidemic are remembered. Compassion and strength are extended to those living with HIV or AIDS. And the commitment to educate the public is reaffirmed.

Human immunodeficiency virus is the virus that causes AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, the end stage of HIV.

According to the state department of health, HIV/AIDS is contracted by having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has HIV. It can be passed by sharing a needle to inject drugs, mother-to-child transmission or from a blood transfusion, although this is unlikely in the United States.

The use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of contracting HIV, but abstinence is the only 100-percent foolproof method.

It is not passed by hugging, shaking hands or casual kissing. It is not passed by mosquitoes or animals. And it can't be contracted from a doorknob, toilet seat, drinking glass, water fountain, silverware or dishes, according to the health department.

Department statistics show 4,605 people living with HIV/AIDS in Oklahoma. The disease was in every one of the 77 counties in the state as of Dec. 31, 2008. There have been 7,832 cases diagnosed in Oklahoma since 1982.

Shifting demographics
Fox said there are about 200 new cases of HIV/AIDS each year in Oklahoma.

Numbers are increasing among minorities and women. Nationally, there are about 56,000 new infections per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC estimates one out of five, or 21 percent, of HIV-infected people do not know they are HIV-positive, which keeps them from getting the treatment they need that can extend being asymptomatic or slow down the progression of the disease.

Men comprise 83 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS in the state, with gay men representing the bulk of that number.

Sixty-four percent of women with HIV contracted it by heterosexual contact.

"It is much easier for a (positive) male to infect a female, than vice versa," Fox said.

Globally, AIDS is more of a heterosexual disease. The World Health Organization estimates there were 33.3 million people living with HIV in 2009, with children under 15 comprising 2.5 million of that number. There were 1.8 million deaths from AIDS worldwide in 2009 alone.

In Central Oklahoma, demographic shifts are being seen by some of the agencies that deal with HIV/AIDS infections.

Less than 50 percent of Other Options' clients are from the gay population, said Arbuckle. Other segments of the population are gaining, she said, along with single moms, seniors and married families with kids, the Hispanic community now rivals the African-American population as the fastest growing portion of people infected. The largest proportion continues to be gay men and their partners, but that's dropping.

"It's not a gay disease anymore," Arbuckle said. "I don't see that anymore."

She believes the language barrier with some Hispanics is contributing to the uptick in HIV infections among that population. According to the CDC, Hispanics account for 17 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS nationally.
Data from 2008 compiled by the state health department showed African-Americans as 7.3 percent of the Oklahoma population, but accounted for 24 percent of those living with HIV and 22 percent of those living with AIDS.

Guiding Right reaches out to the African-American population to educate it on safer sex practices and intravenous drugs.

Necessary evil
Drug regimes have moved on in sophistication and efficacy.

But there are many side effects with some of the more popular ones. When one loses its effectiveness, others are tried.

One popular drug is Atripla, a combination or a "cocktail" of three drugs, which makes dosing easier.

"I call it the 'evil, hateful drug,'" Arbuckle said. "At night, no one sleeps with (the HIV/AIDS patient) because they have such vivid nightmares. But it's the most lifesaving drug."

As World AIDS Day approaches, Arbuckle is planning something special for her clients.

Grant funds from Mac AIDS are making it possible to deliver baskets to each HIV/AIDS client, with Viva Glam makeup products and other toiletries, by about 15 to 20 volunteers from the group. Mac AIDS Fund also partnered with Other Options on Thanksgiving and Christmas, helping deliver about 400 meals on Thanksgiving Day.

A list of sites where confidential HIV testing is conducted can be found at

To apply for assistance in Central Oklahoma, contact RAIN Oklahoma at 232-2437, the OU Infectious Diseases Institute at 271-8001, ext. 38349, or the Oklahoma Department of Human Services AIDS Coordination and Information Services at 271-5816 or toll-free at 800-884-1572.

photo Mary Arbuckle, director of Other Options Inc., and Jonathan Roberts, executive director of Be the Change, pack a box of groceries for a family with at least one HIV-positive member. Roberts founded the metro-based Be the Change service organization to help those impacted by HIV/AIDS. Photo/Mark Hancock

chart/Oklahoma State Department of Health

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