How HIV/AIDS changed life in Central New York in big ways and small ways

Dr. Waleed JavaidThere used to be a stigma associated with buying condoms.

Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop began erasing that stigma in 1987 when he declared that condoms offered the best protection from AIDS for those who “will not practice abstinence or monogamy.” He riled conservatives by calling for condom advertising on television.

Now Central New Yorkers can find condoms on supermarket shelves next to the toothpaste. And they are routinely given away free on college campuses, bars and at clinics. Planned Parenthood has its own line of condoms, called Proper Attire, that it markets directly to women.

Condom use had waned in the 1960s after the introduction of the birth control pill. But condom sales jumped 33 percent in 1987, the same year Koop began his condom campaign.

“The onset of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s changed perceptions on condoms and use rates climbed by double digit percentages for the first time in history,” said Bruce Weiss, a vice president of marketing at Trojan Brand Condoms.

The greater social acceptance of condoms is just one of many changes Central New Yorkers and others have seen since the emergence of AIDS 30 years ago. The legacy of AIDS is seen at the dentist office, when donating blood, at basketball games and even when babies are born.

AIDS has had a profound effect on society, according to Michael Crinnin, executive director of AIDS Community Resources, a nonprofit that works with Central New Yorkers affected by HIV and AIDS.

“The AIDS epidemic, for all its horror, forced America out of the closet,” he said. “Because it was first reported as affecting gay white men, a lot of these gay white men were forced out of the closet. Then families came out of the closet and had to confront the fact their sons were gay.”

Rick Bartell, director of education and outreach for Planned Parenthood of Rochester/Syracuse, said the epidemic forced many Americans to begin having serious conversations about sex. “In this country we tend to be uncomfortable talking about these issues,” he said. Parents are starting these conversations about sex much earlier than previous generations of parents did, said Bernard Alex, director of FACES, an HIV/AIDS outreach program in Syracuse. “It has caused children to grow up faster and lose their innocence a lot sooner,” he said.

HIV, which stands for human immunodeficiency virus, is an infection that attacks the body’s immune system. It is the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS, short for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is the final stage of the HIV infection. Having AIDS means the virus has weakened the immune system to the point where the body has a difficult time fighting the infection. It can be transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk.

To protect themselves from infection, dentists and dental hygienists began using gloves, face shields and other protective devices after the emergence of AIDS.

When AIDS first appeared, hospitals worried about nurses and other clinicians getting accidentally stuck by needles contaminated with blood from HIV-positive patients, said Dr. Waleed Javaid, director of infection control at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse.

To minimize this risk, hospitals use safety devices that automatically cover the needle as soon as it’s withdrawn from a patient and place it in containers designed for the safe disposal of used needles, Javaid said.

AIDS also changed the way blood is collected.

HIV testing of all donated blood began in 1985, after some people were infected with HIV through blood transfusions. Organ donations also are tested for HIV. The Red Cross and other blood banks also adopted stringent donor selection practices.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits men who have ever had sex with another man since 1977, from donating blood. Since 2006, the Red Cross has recommended that the FDA change this controversial rule which it calls “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”

New York has required all newborns to be tested for HIV since 1997 because infected infants need special medical care. More recently, the state enacted a law requiring all health care providers to offer all patients between the ages of 13 and 64 a voluntary HIV test.

Athletic associations and schools began adopting sanitary procedures for handling open wounds and spilled blood in 1991, when former basketball player Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced he was infected with HIV. That policy calls for athletes to be taken out of games if they get a bloody nose or cut until the bleeding has stopped and the wound is cleaned and bandaged.

There are no documented cases of HIV being transmitted during participation in sports, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The epidemic also empowered patients. In the early days AIDs patients were shunned by many health care providers. That prompted AIDs patients to organize and take political action to improve access to health care and treatment.

“That patient advocacy spread,” said Rick Bartell of Planned Parenthood. “Now all kinds of patients are taking charge of their medical lives.”