TLC Provides FYI On HIV
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
and Chilli: 'Knowledge is power' when it comes to HIV.
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Over the past 12 years the group TLC has sold more than 27
million albums; more than any other female group in history. Now the group's
two remaining members, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda "Chilli"
Thomas hope you'll listen to an even more important message.† "You can't talk
enough about HIV/AIDS - knowledge is power," Thomas says. "We've been talking
about safe sex since 1995. Unfortunately, HIV infections in African Americans
and women are really increasing rapidly. We're not doing this just for our community
but for everyone. You have to get yourself tested if you're at risk."† Recent
data indicate that people of color and women are becoming infected at alarming
While African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 25% of the total
U.S. population, they make up 68% of new AIDS cases. In general, while women
account for 17.5% of AIDS cases, they now represent nearly 26% of new AIDS cases.
And the AIDS rate among African American women is about 20 times higher than
white women (47.8 vs. 2.4 per 100,000). Hispanic women have five times the rate
of white women.†
Watkins and Thomas have far more than their skin color and womanhood to motivate
their awareness efforts.† They also have a personal stake in educating people
about HIV/AIDS. Both performers have lost close friends to the disease that
to date has killed more than 440,000 Americans and currently infects as many
"When I was younger I had a friend of the family pass away," says Watkins.
"We really didn't understand it then. There wasn't a lot of information at the
time to help people understand HIV and treatments. And we didn't have anything
to help us with dealing with death after you lost a loved one."
Watkins and Thomas are no strangers to untimely deaths.† Their friend and band-mate
Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes was killed last year in a tragic car accident.
In the hopes of saving lives, Watkins and Thomas have joined forces with Agouron
Pharmaceuticals, Inc. to kick off Dialogues: Education and Treatment
for a Well Planned Future -- a national, HIV educational initiative.
"If you call the toll free number 800-576-6600 or log on to the website www.hiv-dialogues.com,
they will send you an information booklet that walks you through what questions
to ask your doctor so you understand your treatment options," says Thomas, who,
along with Watkins, is compensated for their time. "You can live a long time
with HIV if you start with the medicines that are right for you."
"Getting tested is important because the sooner you get treatment the better,"
Thomas adds. "And you need to find out which treatment is best for you because
not everyone is the same. You need to communicate with your doctor because you
don't want to blow your wad early if there are four other groups of medications
out there you could have used."
Developing the best treatment regimen for each individual is critical because
studies indicate that 50%-80% of HIV patients taking highly active antiretroviral
therapy (HAART) will develop resistance to their treatment.
"The change in HIV as a sentence of death to becoming almost a chronic disease
came about because of protease inhibitors," says Luther Virgil, a physician
and HIV specialist at Family and Medical Counseling Service in Washington DC.
"Use of these drugs in a treatment regimen that has been individually designed
for each patient has extended life. But these medications have their limits."
To avoid early resistance issues, Virgil says it is essential that patients
communicate clearly and work with a doctor skilled in treating HIV.
"If you find out you have HIV, you have to become best friends with your doctor
and trust them and talk to them," Thomas says. "If you don't like your doctor,
find one that does work for you so they can help you live longer and healthier."
"You would be amazed that when you can communicate with your doctor and show
them you are concerned and educated about your own health how much respect and
attention you get from them," Watkins states.
"But all this begins with testing and knowing you are at risk for HIV," Virgil
stresses. "The symptoms and signs of HIV are varied and numerous and can range
from flu-like symptoms to weight loss."
Others symptoms might include:
- Rapid weight loss
- Dry cough
- Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
- Profound and unexplained fatigue
- Swollen lymph glands in the armpit, groin, or neck
- Prolonged diarrhea - lasting a week or more
- White spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth,
or in the throat
Virgil says testing is the most important component and should not be limited
to only those people who exhibit symptoms. He recommends individuals who are
at risk for HIV also get tested. †Those at risk for HIV/AIDS include:
- People engaging in unprotected sex
- IV drug users
- Medical profession who might be exposed to the disease
"It is essential that people understand that they need to be tested more than
just one time because it may take three to six months to generate an HIV antibody
response," Virgil explains. "In other words, if you're tested after exposure
to a risk factor you need to be re-tested again 3-6 months later. But during
this time period you cannot be exposed to any more risk factors, like having
unprotected sex.† If you are exposed again, then you have to start over; get
tested and then re-tested again 3-6 months later."
Virgil says this testing and re-testing applies particularly to HIV antibody
tests. The most common of these are the ELISA and Western Blot. But the HIV
1 RNA by PCR test looks for genetic evidence of HIV rather than antibodies and
can detect HIV infection sooner. The test is expensive and results often take
a little longer.
"This test is more specific than the antibody test which detects our body's
response to the presence of the HIV virus," Virgil notes. "While this test needs
to have a 'viral load' level that is high enough to be detected, the time frame
to reach this threshold level is much shorter than the time it can take to generate
the antibody response."†
But while testing is important, Watkins and Thomas say prevention is ultimate
"I want women to know that you can prevent being in this situation by taking
precautions and not giving in to pressure," Watkins urges. "If a guy really
loves you and you're not ready to have sex, he will wait. If you are having
sex, protect yourself. But if you have tested positive, there is something you
can do about it that's positive. HIV doesn't have to be the end of the road
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Created: 6/19/2003  - John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 6/19/2003  - Donnica Moore, M.D.