AIDS: A Community Fights Back

The city of Quincy and Gadsden County are still recuperating from some negative publicity. In the February 2003 issue of Essence Magazine, the city was named one of the largest HIV infected communities in the country.

Almost one year ago to the day, the February issue of Essence was flying off the shelves. One of the articles gave the nation a look at how HIV affects the lives of Quincy residents who are diagnosed with the AIDS virus.

In last year's February issue of Essence magazine, Gadsden County and the city of Quincy were painted in a negative light. An article states this community has one of the highest HIV/Aids rates in the country.

Sixteen years ago Randall Zigler was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. He's been using this latest medical breakthrough to help him treat the disease.

"When I found out the doctor say I got some good news and some bad news. I asked what was the good news, he says "You will live, but the bad news you've been exposed to HIV/Aids," says Randall Zigler, a Quincy resident.

Zigler says most folks in Gadsden County are not educated about the virus. He says the article in the February issue should have been an eye opener for residents in the community.

"There are a lot of people here with HIV/AIDS and a lot of them are not being treated. Some of them refuse to be treated and they just sit around when they get real, real sick that's when they want to jump and try to get help," says Zigler.

County officials say some residents were upset with article, but add the national exposure led to some necessary changes.

"It is necessary to expose the problem in order to get help. After that exposure was made that's when the feds stepped and said, "We are here to help you, what can we do," says Nancy Gee, Gadsden County Grants Coordinator.

Officials believe the article, while seemingly negative, actually had a positive impact. In fact, the number of HIV/AIDS cases has dropped significantly. In 2002, 12 HIV/AIDS cases were reported in Gadsden County. Last year that number dropped to nine.

"The Health Department, the county and the city would've still work the same way we're working now in order to combat the disease that we know is spread all over this whole nation, not just in Quincy, but everywhere," says the Quincy city manager.

The folks who shared their story in the article died right about the time it hit the stands. County officials say testing is the key to getting early treatment.

The county has taken the lead in securing several grants to help folks in the community. Friday we'll tell you how they'll use those grants.

>center> Extended Web Coverage

A few facts about AIDS and HIV

  • AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is a condition believed to be caused by a virus called HIV.

  • This virus attacks the immune system.

  • When the immune system breaks down, you lose this protection and can develop many serious, often deadly infections and cancers.

  • AIDS is the condition that lets opportunistic infections take hold, and those infections cause death.

How is HIV and AIDS transmitted

  • HIV is spread most commonly by having unprotected sex with an infected partner. The virus can enter the body through the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum, or mouth during sex.

  • HIV also is spread through contact with infected blood. Today, because of blood screening and heat treatment, the risk of getting HIV from such transfusions is extremely small.

  • HIV frequently is spread among injection drug users by the sharing of needles or syringes contaminated with very small quantities of blood from someone infected with the virus.

  • Women can transmit HIV to their babies during pregnancy or birth. Approximately one-quarter to one-third of all untreated pregnant women infected with HIV will pass the infection to their babies.

Early symptoms of HIV infection

  • Many people do not have any symptoms when they first become infected with HIV.

  • Some people, however, have a flu-like illness within a month or two after exposure to the virus. This illness may include fever, headache, tiredness, and enlarged lymph nodes (glands of the immune system easily felt in the neck and groin).

  • These symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for those of another viral infection, although, during this period, people are very infectious, and HIV is present in large quantities in genital fluids.

  • More persistent or severe symptoms may not surface for a decade or more after HIV first enters the body in adults, or within two years in children born with HIV infection.

  • As the immune system deteriorates, a variety of complications start to take over. For many people, their first sign of infection is large lymph nodes or "swollen glands" that may be enlarged for more than three months.

  • Other symptoms often experienced months to years before the onset of AIDS include:
    • lack of energy
    • weight loss
    • frequent fevers and sweats
    • persistent or frequent yeast infections (oral or vaginal)
    • persistent skin rashes or flaky skin
    • pelvic inflammatory disease in women that does not respond to treatment
    • short-term memory loss

  • Some people develop frequent and severe herpes infections that cause mouth, genital, or anal sores, or a painful nerve disease called shingles. Children may grow slowly or be sick a lot.

    What is AIDS?

    • The term AIDS applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection. CDC developed official criteria for the definition of AIDS and is responsible for tracking the spread of AIDS in the United States.

    • CDC's definition of AIDS includes all HIV-infected people who have fewer than 200 CD4+ T cells per cubic millimeter of blood. (Healthy adults usually have CD4+ T-cell counts of 1,000 or more.)

    • In addition, the definition includes 26 clinical conditions that affect people with advanced HIV disease.

    • Most of these conditions are opportunistic infections that generally do not affect healthy people.

    • In people with AIDS, these infections are often severe and sometimes fatal because the immune system is so ravaged by HIV that the body cannot fight off certain bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and other microbes.

    Source: (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Fact Sheet)