AIDS | KUOW News and Information

AIDS

It's one of the biggest medical mysteries of our time: How did HIV come to the U.S.?

By genetically sequencing samples from people infected early on, scientists say they have figured out when and where the virus that took hold here first arrived. In the process, they have exonerated the man accused of triggering the epidemic in North America.

When you're pregnant, going to the doctors can be exciting. You get to find out if you're having a boy or a girl. Maybe hear the baby's heart beat.

But in southern Africa, many women find out something else.

Allison Groves at American University recently ran a study in a town outside Durban, South Africa. They followed about 1,500 pregnant women. The results left her speechless.

For decades, Cassandra Steptoe felt like she couldn't talk about her HIV diagnosis with anyone.

"I couldn't forgive myself for getting HIV," says Steptoe, who spent much of her early adult life in and out of jail for shoplifting and burglaries linked to her IV drug use. "But someone told me a long time ago, if you are looking for a reason to feel shame, you can always find it. I learned to look for something else: forgiveness."

In his competitive diving career, four-time Olympic diving gold medalist and five-time world champion Greg Louganis has been all over the world. Now he'll be in one place that's eluded him for years: your kitchen table.

Wheaties announced that Louganis — who is openly gay and HIV-positive — along with two other former Olympians, hurdler Edwin Moses and swimmer Janet Evans, will be featured on the cereal boxes as part of the revamped "legends" series.

HIV rates have been on the decline in the U.S. for years now, but stark disparities remain, with some groups of people at high risk of infection.

Here's the good part: The number of people diagnosed annually has dropped by about 20 percent in the last decade.

The drop was driven by plunges in certain groups of people, including heterosexuals, with a 35 percent decline since 2005; black women, with a 42 percent decline; and people who inject drugs, 63 percent.

There's a place in the city of Tijuana, Mexico, called El Bordo, which has always been somewhat reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic movie scene. The name comes from "the border," which is where it's located: right by the fence that separates the U.S. from Mexico, among the enormous paved canals that run through Southern California like concrete veins. Hundreds of people live in those canals, often in makeshift tents, the smell of sewage made ripe by the hot Tijuana sun. It's a place where many deportees try to get by. It's also a site of heavy drug use.

Courtesy of Tacoma Art Museum/Keith Haring Foundation

Tacoma Art Museum has opened a new exhibit called "Art AIDS America." It includes what co-curator Jonathan David Katz calls the first work of AIDS art, an abstract piece from 1981 by Israeli-born artist Izhar Patkin.

Transgender people are not getting adequate health care, and widespread discrimination is largely to blame, according to a recent World Health Organization report. And the story is told most starkly in the high rates of HIV among transgender women worldwide.

JoAnne Keatley, one of the authors of that study, puts it plainly.

Jason Schmidt, the writer, with his dad.
Courtesy of Jason Schmidt

When I was 16 years old I came home from school one day and found my dad crawling around on the kitchen floor in a big pool of blood.

He was down on all fours with a dishrag, trying to mop it up, but there was a lot of blood and it was a small dishrag so things weren’t going very well. When I walked in from the back hallway and saw what he was doing, it wasn’t immediately obvious where the blood had come from.

I stopped in the doorway and stood there for a minute, hoping he’d notice me and offer some kind of explanation. But he just kept scrubbing away.

When Alysia Abbott was 22, her dad died of AIDS. It was San Francisco, 1992. Even though her dad was out as a gay man at the time, she wasn’t out about his illness.

There was so much shame and stigma, and she didn’t know anyone else who shared her experience. Not until many years later, when she met Whitney Joiner, who had also lost her father to AIDS the very same year, in rural Kentucky.

NIAID

Ebola has dominated recent headlines from Africa, but it wasn't long ago that AIDS was getting most of the attention. Now there's a bit of good news about that older disease: A group of scientists have just published a study concluding that the HIV virus may actually be getting milder over time.

Carol Glenn, a former Seattle nurse, collected leftover HIV/AIDS drugs to send overseas. It wasn't legal, but Glenn believed it was her duty.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

Carol Glenn, a former nurse, remembers when AIDS ravaged Seattle.

“We began to have people literally walking into the clinic and dropping dead,” said Glenn, who worked at Pike Market Clinic at the time. “Or people with these really strange growths on their face or horrible pneumonias, and nobody knew what they were.”

Back then, HIV was a death sentence. AZT, the first drug approved to treat the disease, came on the market in 1987; it would be years before HIV/AIDS treatments truly started saving lives.

“People were dying left and right at that point and their friends or family would come with a box of stuff and say, ‘I don’t want to throw this away; what’ll I do with it?’” Glenn said.

Intiman Theatre

Tony Kushner was an aspiring playwright with only a single play produced when the artistic leaders of San Francisco's Eureka Theatre asked if he would write something for them.

Flickr Photo/Wheeler Cowperthwaite (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Ross Reynolds talks with Dr. Matthew Golden about HIV infection rates in King County. Golden directs the HIV/STD control program at King County Public Health.

Seattle’s medical and research community is mourning the death of dozens of HIV researchers killed in the Malaysia Air crash Thursday.  The group was en route to Australia for the International Aids Conference.  

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