Blight of our youth: Aids certified nurse reveals HIV/AIDS numbers in Magnolia state

Blight of our youth: Aids certified nurse reveals HIV/AIDS numbers in Magnolia state

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Human meaning you can only contract the virus through serious human to human contact such as unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive, sharing needles with someone who has HIV, or an HIV positive mother can transfer it to her unborn baby.

Immunodeficiency means HIV weakens the immune system, and without proper care, the result is AIDS.

Hattiesburg Aids Certified Registered, Tonya Green has even more sobering facts about this disease.

"Mississippi rated number 10 for AIDS diagnoses, Green said. Forrest County rated number two for new HIV cases in 2013. Our state now ranks number 1 with Florida for HIV infection rates for those who are ages 13 to 24."

Green can tell a person anything they want to know about HIV/AIDS.

"I serve as Director of Social Services and the Ryan White Program Coordinator at Hattiesburg Family Health Center," Green said.

Green said there is an epidemic in the Magnolia State. She called it, 'the disease no one wants to talk about'.

"If we want to reduce this rate of infection in our young children, we are going to have to start the conversation." Green said.

She said in her 12 years of helping and treating people infected with HIV and AIDS, she has been faced with a constant barrier.

"Stigma is still very, very strong," Green said.

Green added the stigma of HIV promotes silence, she said silence means there is little education to end the epidemic of HIV infections. She urged keeping quiet is something one population in particular can't afford.

"Because a lot of them are still in school, it's difficult to get into the school system to really talk about sex, talk about HIV/AIDS." Green said.

She added parents aren't talking to their children about sex, so kids are experimenting or she says they are getting sex education from their peers. Green said kids are also acting on impulse through social media.

"Social media can be a benefit and it can be a consequence, because there are now apps where they can go and meet other people online, Green said. They can set up to have random sex with someone not knowing their HIV status," Green said.

Green confesses all of those factors have created a new national demographic that's made its way to her office door.

"Most of my patient population are now young, black, gay males," Green said.

For the purpose of this report, a 21-year-old, black, gay male wanted to be called "Mario."

"My dad cried. My mom didn't speak to me for a whole two and a half weeks," Mario said.

Mario said that was his parents reaction when he told his parents he was gay his senior year of high school.

"I didn't speak to my parents for, like, a whole summer," Mario said.

His confession that he was gay wasn't Mario's biggest battle, he recalls that came after a doctor told him the results of a physical during basic training in June 2012. Mario said his doctor explained the results.

"It came back as non-reactive, then it came back as blank, then it finally came back as reactive, Mario said. He said, 'I will leave you to think about that' and he just walked out of the office."

He said the military placed him on suicide watch until he returned home. Mario described how he initially felt about his diagnosis.

"I didn't talk to anyone. I didn't say anything to anyone. I didn't even go outside for literally two weeks," said Mario. "I didn't even bathe for two weeks. I just stayed at home."

Mario remembered, for a while he stigmatized himself, at times not wanting to finish a meal because he said he didn't want to eat after himself. Now, he said he has accepted his status and he explained his daily HIV care, which is one pill a day.

"You take one of these a day. These just help suppress, or keep the disease suppressed." Mario said.

Mario said he can accept his status, but he will always conceal it from his parents.

"Being gay is already a hard enough pill for them to swallow, and if I were to come in and say that I have a "gay man's disease," then it will be…It would really crush them." Mario said

Mario said he did confront the one he said he is certain he contracted HIV from when he was 17, but the person tries to deny it.

Green has some advice on how we can try to eradicate this disease.

"Educate in many aspects, many venues and to as many people as possible about prevention and protection. Green said. HIV is 100 percent preventable by practicing abstinence. It's ok to talk about HIV/AIDS," Green said.