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Thousands in Pima County living with HIV/AIDS: Epidemic of the 80s that still exists today

World AIDS Day was this week
Posted at 4:51 PM, Dec 04, 2021

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — World AIDS Day was this week. During the pandemic, it's especially important to get tested. Curt Beall found out he had acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, also known as AIDS, in 1990.

“I didn’t get tested because I was in a monogamous relationship and I didn’t know the virus could be in your system for over eight years,” said Curt Beall, a Tucsonan with HIV.

The medicine available at that time couldn't help him.

“The doctor said I have 18-24 months to live,” Beall said.

Soon after, the FDA approved the first medicine to mitigate the effects of AIDS. It saved Beall’s life.

“When I first was diagnosed with HIV, I had to take sometimes 25-30 pills a day," Beall said. "Now I take two pills a day.”

Today, medicine has evolved to the point that someone living with HIV can have unprotected sex without infecting their partner. It’s a major development, but there’s still no cure.

“Even if you don’t hear about it, it's still there," said Scott Blades, executive director of Tucson Interfaith HIV and AIDS Network. "You can still catch HIV through unprotected sex or sharing needles.”

According to the Tucson Interfaith HIV and AIDS Network, also known as TIHAN, more than 3,000 people in Pima County live with HIV. And around 14% of them aren't even aware of it.

“You may not have any symptoms at all for a while, or you may have flu-like symptoms,” Blades said.

Even if you don't have symptoms, the virus attacks your immune system, making it difficult to fight off diseases. This is especially problematic during the pandemic.

“They think that they’re not at risk, that’s something that only happens to ‘other people’, whoever they define as ‘other’," Blades said. "But the reality is, HIV doesn’t know who you are, it doesn’t care who you are. It's just a virus.”

This is why TIHAN urges everyone to get tested at least once a year. The right treatment can prevent the spread and save your life.

“I went from having a death sentence to having a chronic illness," Beall said. "So it's given me the opportunity to know that I should have a full life.”

The Tucson Interfaith HIV and AIDS Network offers community events, empowerment classes, financial assistance, and emotional support.

For more information from TIHAN, visit here.