Advances in medicine have made living with HIV possible 40 years after start of epidemic

Reporter: Taylor Wirtz
Published: Updated:
Marissa Gonzalez is HIV positive and tries to educate others in order to due away with the stigma. (CREDIT: WINK News)

Forty years after the first reported case of the AIDS epidemic in 1981, doctors are still working to screen patients for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, while also educating the public.

For Marissa Gonzalez, learning she was HIV positive was devastating.

“I was distraught; I was in disbelief,” Gonzalez said. “I really didn’t believe what I heard my doctor tell me. Shortly after I fell into a very deep depression. I attempted suicide.”

When AIDS was first reported in the United States, the virus was a death sentence.

Dr. Michael Wool treated those first patients.

“We had absolutely no idea what we were dealing with,” said Wool, an AIDS research physician. “We would have patients that will come in, they were really sick and basically we were throwing everything but the kitchen sink to try and control this infection. And we weren’t very successful at the beginning. We were just taking drugs off the shelves and hoping they would work.”

Treatment has evolved since, and Gonzalez knows she can live a pretty normal life thanks to advances in medication.

“Honestly, it’s no different than your life, I’m sure,” Gonzales said. “I still exercise. Pre-COVID I was still going to the movies, still hanging out, still dating.”

The hardest part, Gonzalez said, is the stigma, so she spends much of her time educating others.

“It can literally happen to anyone,” Gonzalez said. “It doesn’t matter your race. It doesn’t matter your sexual orientation, doesn’t matter your economic status, how much you have in the bank account.

“It doesn’t matter.”

If you feel you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It is a free, 24-hour hotline, at 1.800.273.TALK (8255). Your call will be connected to the crisis center nearest to you. If you are in an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

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