There is a 22-year-old male senior at Temple. Since his freshman year he has had over 50 sexual partners, both male and female.
Recently diagnosed with HIV, he continued his normal sexual practices, not realizing he had developed a new, more aggressive and drug-resistant strain.
Two months after his diagnosis, doctors told him that he now had one month to live. Meanwhile, many of his sexual partners were likely to be infected as well.
While this is a fictional story, young people dismissing warnings against practicing unsafe sex and using ‘club drugs’ should know that a new, more powerful strain of HIV is serving as a harsh reminder that drug use and unprotected sex is sometimes a deadly combination.
Every day in 2003, approximately 6,000 young people between the ages of 15 to 24 became infected with HIV. This virus is passed from one person to another when HIV-infected blood, semen, or vaginal secretions come in contact with an uninfected person’s broken skin or mucous membrane.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, since June 1981, when people became aware of HIV and AIDS in the United States, the virus has killed more than 524,000 people. And of the 40,000 new infections each year, half are younger than 25 years of age.
Before recent research, scientists estimated that about half of all people with HIV would develop AIDS within 10 years after being diagnosed. But the 10-year theory may be becoming obsolete due to a possible new strain of HIV.
Two months ago, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced that an unidentified 46-year-old gay man – who reportedly had hundreds of unprotected sexual partners and was often under the influence of crystal methamphetamine when having sex – had been diagnosed with a highly resistant strain of HIV. This man had not been previously treated for the virus and did not respond to three of the four classes of drugs used to treat HIV.
Despite cases like this beginning to crop up, it seems that many young people believe that the epidemic is over, and this notion could indicate a possible trend of acceptance regarding promiscuous sex and the use of party drugs. I questioned 50 students on campus about their sexual encounters, their use of club drugs and their level of attentiveness to HIV issues to see if my assumption was correct.
The 12-question survey revealed some startling results. Of the 50 Temple students surveyed, 46 percent admitted to using some type of club drug. The survey also revealed that MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, is among the most popular clubs drug used by college students. According to the Centers for Disease Control, during 2003, 12.9 percent of college students reported using Ecstasy at least once during their college career.
Of the 50 respondents, 4 percent knew someone on campus with HIV, 66 percent admitted to having unprotected sex and 66 percent of the students surveyed were familiar with club drugs.
Some conclusions can be drawn from this data. Students on this campus seem to be used to behaving irresponsibly when engaging in sexual activity; over half of the students surveyed admitted to having unprotected sex. Is it that they trust their partners too much with their lives, is it a lack of education regarding the HIV virus, or is it simply that they think the infection won’t happen to them?
Though students know about abstinence, condoms and protecting themselves, they might not fully grasp the dangers of having unprotected sex. One positive result from the survey was that 100 percent of respondents wanted more information to be publicized about HIV and AIDS, and a key to changing their behavior may be furthering education about the subject.
When pondering the use of a condom, a main concern for students tends to be pregnancy, rather than the grave possibility that unprotected sex could lead to deadly diseases. If more students are informed about how club drugs can lead to jeopardizing life through unsafe sex, we may all begin to see a difference in HIV and AIDS awareness and infection rates.
The possible new strain of HIV, more powerful than ever, may have to serve as wake-up call for students who don’t already realize that HIV and AIDS are increasingly killing off a substantial amount of young people.
Jennifer Ogunsola can be reached at email@example.com.