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Layne Tassin + Elizabeth McDonald: Health Literacy & HIV/AIDS

This first portion is Layne's piece!

The AIDS epidemic, that showed up in the US in 1981, established that the US was not equipped to handle an epidemic of this proportion, people, especially gay man, are not encouraged to come forward, and officals waited to make the epidemic public in the belief that they could avoid mass panic in the nation. According to the CDC throughout 1981, 270 cases of severe immune deficiency are reported by gay when, of those 270, 121 lost their lives. (CDC) Then the next year, another group of gay men reported the same symtoms as the previous group in California. This led the doctores testing them to believe that this could be caused by something sexual. Before it was called HIV or AIDS doctor’s called the disease gay-related immune deficency. After these cases were reported, cases that were almost identical to cases in California were reported in Haiti, this led people to believe that the disease originated in Haiti. In September 1982, the CDC began to refer to this disease as AIDS, which means acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The CDC described this as “a disease at least moderately predictive of a defect in cell mediated immunity, occurring in a person with no known case for diminished resistance to that disease” (CDC). In 1983, a 13 year old, Ryan White was infected with HIV after getting a blood treatment thaw was contaminated. The following year the FDA came out with the first HIV screening for blood bags and the American Foundation for AIDS research was founded with help from Elizabeth Taylor. In 1987, the FDA approved the drug AZT for treating AIDS and the AIDS memorial quilt was put on display for the first in Washington D.C. However it was not until 1990 that the FDA approved AZT for pediatric AIDS. In ‘92 AIDS in the United States is named the number one killer of men between 25 to 44. Then only two years later AIDS becomes the number one killer of all Americans between 25 to 44. However the worst was yet to come in 2002 HIV became the number one cause of death worldwide for people between 15 to 59. All this and even more information just goes to show that the United States was not ready for an epidemic. In 2016 a study was done on gay men with HIV. Out of the 1,140,400 648,500 were from two males having sex. According to Advert of the whole US population 2 percent are gay men however, 66 percent of them have HIV infections, 56 percent are living with HIV, and over half of all AIDS death since the epidemic started. (Advert) Gay men under the age of 35 are almost twice as likely to have been tested for HIV because they never get tested. When AIDS and HIV fist became a disease there was so much stigma attached to it because of the people that were affected gay men, and they already had a stigma attacted to them for being gay at this time. Although HIV is dangerous if properly treated and caught in time then a person can live with it. However a person has HIV and does not get treated runs a very high risk of HIV turning into AIDS. While with HIV there is a possibility of living with it once that turns into AIDS that possibility is slim to none. HIV attacks the immune system once it progresses to AIDS a person’s immune system has been attacked and is now in serious danger of dying if they got a small illness like a cold because that could progress into pneumonia, which in turn because of the weakened state of the immune system would kill them. In the end if you get HIV please go see a doctor because if you do not get treatment you will die.

Avert (20 Jul. 2015.). History of HIV and AIDS overview. Avert. Retrieved from

CDC (16 Sept. 2020.). HIV and Gay and Bisexual Men. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from

Halkitis Pn (n.d.). The syndemic of AIDS and STDS among MSM. PubMed Central (PMC). Retrieved from

KFF (25 Sept. 2014.). HIV/AIDS In The Lives Of Gay And Bisexual Men In The United States. KFF. Retrieved from

N.a (6 Aug. 2018.). 1980s.

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Resources For Journalists (10 Jun. 2011.). Thirty Years of AIDS: A Timeline of the Epidemic. Thirty Years of AIDS: A Timeline of the Epidemic | UC San Francisco. Retrieved from

See All Contributors (1 Oct. 2020.). AIDS | Definition, Diagnosis, Treatment, & Facts. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from


The following is Elizabeth's work!

Starting in 1981, a disease swept through America like a wildfire. That disease was Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). There was little research and lots of stigma surrounding the illness. The thing that changed it all was celebrities being open and talking to the people about it. The celebrity recognition of the HIV/AIDS epidemic has led to higher levels of health literacy and more research in order to combat HIV/AIDS. In this post, I will explore how Magic Johnson sharing his diagnosis has contributed to reducing stigma surrounding the diseases.

Humanity’s deadliest and most incessant epidemics is HIV. It attacks cells that help the body fight infection, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases (Gomez & Kouzouian, 2020). HIV is spread by contact with bodily fluids from a person with HIV, usually during unprotected sex or through sharing injection drug equipment (Gomez & Kouzouian, 2020). The human body can not get rid of HIV, and since no effective HIV cure exists, once you have HIV, you have it for life (CDC 2020). While it can not be cured, it can be controlled. People with HIV can live a healthy life and prevent spreading it to their partners (Gomez & Kouzouian, 2020). There are also effective methods to prevent getting HIV through sex or drug use, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) (Gomez & Kouzouian, 2020).

There are three stages of HIV: Acute HIV Infection, Chronic HIV Infection, and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) (CDC 2020). The first stage is Acute HIV Infection. It is very contagious in this stage and people will have flu-like symptoms. The virus will mutate if untreated and move into the second stage, Chronic HIV Infection. Here the cells are active, but they reproduce at a lower rate. This stage can last for decades. If it goes untreated the virus will mutate into stage three, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, more commonly known as AIDS (CDC 2020). Most people with HIV however do not develop AIDS because taking HIV medicine every day as prescribed stops the progression of the disease. Stage three is the most severe, and results in death (Hadhazy, 2011). Without medication, people with AIDS can live for about three years, and if they face an opportunistic illness, their time left drops to one year.

One of the reasons we have this information is because of the bravery of celebrities that have been affected by the disease themselves. Their own stories inspired scientists to do more research and educated more people about the horrors of this stigmatized virus. Take Magic Johnson as an example. He was a famous athlete who played basketball for the Lakers in the 80’s and 90’s. In a press conference, he announced his diagnosis and said, “Because of the - the HIV virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers. Today. I just want to make clear, first of all, that I do not have the AIDS disease… but the HIV virus… I plan on going on, living for a long time, bugging you guys, like I've always have,” (Eidenmuller, 2017). Johnson dropped a bomb on the world. How did he contract the virus? Is this a death sentence? Couldn’t only homosexuals get this virus? All were, and still are, common misconceptions, but Johnson worked hard to clear those up. He told audiences the truth about HIV and AIDS, and he worked to educate others about the two. Being a straight man of color, Johnson withstood the stereotypes surrounding HIV (Nunez, 2020). He was one of the first celebrities to be so outspoken about the disease, and he devoted so much to improving health literacy by writing a book and reducing stigmas about HIV (Nunez, 2020).

Some people are confused on how he is still alive but the answer is far from “magic” because Johnson took all the right steps to preserve his life. He was able to take some experimental drugs in the beginning and now takes the same medicine that is available to anyone in a developed country (Nunez, 2020). Many people have lived with HIV even longer than Johnson, due to more modern discoveries.

Using his platform and fame for good, Magic Johnson did something that improved health literacy and research of the diseases. In 1991 he started the Magic Johnson Foundation (MJF), a foundation created to help communities faced with all kinds of needs. HIV/AIDS prevention is the founding principle of the MJF. Since the beginning, MJF has grown to be one of the most respected and recognized organizations in the country that advocates for the education and reduction of new HIV/AIDS infections in communities of color (Benevity 2020).

The founding of the MJF and the celebrity recognition of the HIV epidemic has led to higher levels of health literacy and more research in order to combat HIV/AIDS. Magic Johnson and other famous celebrities have done their part in reducing stigma, improving research, and educating the population.

Benevity. (2020). MAGIC JOHNSON FOUNDATION INC. Benevity Causes Portal. Retrieved

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CDC. (2020). About HIV. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 15,

2020, from

Eidenmuller, M. E. (2017). American Rhetoric. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from

Gomez, M., O. Kouzouian. (2020). What Are HIV and AIDS? Retrieved November 15,

2020, from

Hadhazy, A. (2011). How Has Magic Johnson Survived 20 Years with HIV? Live Science. Retrieved

November 14, 2020, from,pronounced%20his%20own%20death%20sentence.

Nunez, I. (2020). Magic Johnson Has Survived Nearly 30 Years With HIV Thanks to a

Once-Experimental Drug Cocktail. Sportscasting. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from

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