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TLC Provides FYI On HIV

TLC's T-Boz and Chilli: 'Knowledge is power' when it comes to HIV.
Photo CREDIT:†WireImage
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

Over the past 12 years the group TLC has sold more than 27 million albums; more than any other female group in history. Now the group's two remaining members, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas hope you'll listen to an even more important message.† "You can't talk enough about HIV/AIDS - knowledge is power," Thomas says. "We've been talking about safe sex since 1995. Unfortunately, HIV infections in African Americans and women are really increasing rapidly. We're not doing this just for our community but for everyone. You have to get yourself tested if you're at risk."† Recent data indicate that people of color and women are becoming infected at alarming rates.††

While African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 25% of the total U.S. population, they make up 68% of new AIDS cases. In general, while women account for 17.5% of AIDS cases, they now represent nearly 26% of new AIDS cases. And the AIDS rate among African American women is about 20 times higher than white women (47.8 vs. 2.4 per 100,000). Hispanic women have five times the rate of white women.†

Watkins and Thomas have far more than their skin color and womanhood to motivate their awareness efforts.† They also have a personal stake in educating people about HIV/AIDS. Both performers have lost close friends to the disease that to date has killed more than 440,000 Americans and currently infects as many as 900,000.

"When I was younger I had a friend of the family pass away," says Watkins. "We really didn't understand it then. There wasn't a lot of information at the time to help people understand HIV and treatments. And we didn't have anything to help us with dealing with death after you lost a loved one."

Watkins and Thomas are no strangers to untimely deaths.† Their friend and band-mate Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes was killed last year in a tragic car accident.

In the hopes of saving lives, Watkins and Thomas have joined forces with Agouron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. to kick off Dialogues: Education and Treatment for a Well Planned Future -- a national, HIV educational initiative.

"If you call the toll free number 800-576-6600 or log on to the website www.hiv-dialogues.com, they will send you an information booklet that walks you through what questions to ask your doctor so you understand your treatment options," says Thomas, who, along with Watkins, is compensated for their time. "You can live a long time with HIV if you start with the medicines that are right for you."

Patient advocacy

"Getting tested is important because the sooner you get treatment the better," Thomas adds. "And you need to find out which treatment is best for you because not everyone is the same. You need to communicate with your doctor because you don't want to blow your wad early if there are four other groups of medications out there you could have used."

Developing the best treatment regimen for each individual is critical because studies indicate that 50%-80% of HIV patients taking highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) will develop resistance to their treatment.

"The change in HIV as a sentence of death to becoming almost a chronic disease came about because of protease inhibitors," says Luther Virgil, a physician and HIV specialist at Family and Medical Counseling Service in Washington DC. "Use of these drugs in a treatment regimen that has been individually designed for each patient has extended life. But these medications have their limits."

To avoid early resistance issues, Virgil says it is essential that patients communicate clearly and work with a doctor skilled in treating HIV.

"If you find out you have HIV, you have to become best friends with your doctor and trust them and talk to them," Thomas says. "If you don't like your doctor, find one that does work for you so they can help you live longer and healthier."

"You would be amazed that when you can communicate with your doctor and show them you are concerned and educated about your own health how much respect and attention you get from them," Watkins states.

"But all this begins with testing and knowing you are at risk for HIV," Virgil stresses. "The symptoms and signs of HIV are varied and numerous and can range from flu-like symptoms to weight loss."

Others symptoms might include:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Dry cough
  • Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
  • Profound and unexplained fatigue
  • Swollen lymph glands in the armpit, groin, or neck
  • Prolonged diarrhea - lasting a week or more
  • White spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth, or in the throat

Test drive

Virgil says testing is the most important component and should not be limited to only those people who exhibit symptoms. He recommends individuals who are at risk for HIV also get tested. †Those at risk for HIV/AIDS include:

  • People engaging in unprotected sex
  • IV drug users
  • Medical profession who might be exposed to the disease

"It is essential that people understand that they need to be tested more than just one time because it may take three to six months to generate an HIV antibody response," Virgil explains. "In other words, if you're tested after exposure to a risk factor you need to be re-tested again 3-6 months later. But during this time period you cannot be exposed to any more risk factors, like having unprotected sex.† If you are exposed again, then you have to start over; get tested and then re-tested again 3-6 months later."

Virgil says this testing and re-testing applies particularly to HIV antibody tests. The most common of these are the ELISA and Western Blot. But the HIV 1 RNA by PCR test looks for genetic evidence of HIV rather than antibodies and can detect HIV infection sooner. The test is expensive and results often take a little longer.

"This test is more specific than the antibody test which detects our body's response to the presence of the HIV virus," Virgil notes. "While this test needs to have a 'viral load' level that is high enough to be detected, the time frame to reach this threshold level is much shorter than the time it can take to generate the antibody response."†

But while testing is important, Watkins and Thomas say prevention is ultimate priority.

"I want women to know that you can prevent being in this situation by taking precautions and not giving in to pressure," Watkins urges. "If a guy really loves you and you're not ready to have sex, he will wait. If you are having sex, protect yourself. But if you have tested positive, there is something you can do about it that's positive. HIV doesn't have to be the end of the road for you."

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 6/19/2003  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 6/19/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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