By Christina Young
November is AIDS Awareness Month. Iris Almos, an AIDS awareness advocate from Ursuline Sisters HIV/AIDS Ministry, knows intimately the importance of keeping mindful of the deadly virus.
“HIV is real here in the Valley; anyone can get it,” she said.
Almos is HIV-positive and has been for the past 24 years. She contracted the virus from her partner, who was a former drug addict who contracted it from dirty needles. Her partner was informed that he contracted HIV after he had caught the common cold. When he wasn’t getting any better, he went in for testing and they informed him that he was HIV-positive.
“It was very devastating. After his results came back positive, they then suggested that I get tested in which I found out I was HIV-positive as well,” Almos said. “I was fortunate enough to find out early enough, but he had possibly had it for years, which lead to his death three years later after being diagnosed.”
Almos went on to explain how there are many misconceptions about HIV and the ways in which it can be contracted. AIDS can only be contracted through fluid exchange such as semen, vaginal fluid, breast milk and blood — not through saliva, skin contact or mosquito bites.
“I contracted the virus in the 1990s, and there wasn’t a lot of information on the virus. I at first thought that only gay men could contract it. There also wasn’t a lot of information about safe sex; I didn’t know about how to contract it so therefore I didn’t know how to protect myself,” Almos said.
To reduce the risk of contracting HIV, use protection such as a condom when being sexually active, limit sexual partners and do not share needles. It is also important to get tested at least once a year if you are sexually active or involved in any type of drug activity. The Ursuline Sisters of HIV/AIDS has many testing sites throughout the year including at Youngstown State University, which is the first and fourth Friday of every month. This month, because of the holidays, there will be free testing on Nov. 17 from noon to 3 p.m. in the student health services, and it takes only about 20 minutes to get your results.
If a test does come back positive, Almos advised taking the following steps: obtain a confirmation test, get blood work done, talk to a social worker and nurse and then finally go see a doctor to start treatment. Usually treatment involves getting tested every three months and taking a pill once a day. The association will guide you every step of the way along with being there to offer emotional support through counseling and support groups.
“They don’t just leave you hanging; the program will pay for your medication and doctors appointments as well, but it is really important that you take the first step and get tested, especially for college students. HIV/AIDS is important for YSU students due to all of the sexual activity that normally goes on with in college campuses,” Almos said.
HIV/AIDS awareness is helping to bring out the facts of the virus and make people understand how it is prevalent within the Mahoning Valley, but it is also here to let people know that if you do have HIV that you’re not alone and it is not your death sentence.
“As long as you follow your treatment plan you can live a full life with HIV,” Almos said. “Just don’t be afraid to take the first step of getting tested and knowing all of the facts.”