Last week Friday, February 11th, the international media’s attention was drawn to a surprising and disturbing finding.
Reports began to flood newscasts, newspapers, and the internet about the discovery of what Forbes later named an ‘AIDS Superbug’.
The story began in New York City where one unidentified man in his mid-40s, who complained of being ill last November, was then diagnosed with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in December.
By January, approximately four weeks after being diagnosed with HIV, doctors discovered that his status had already progressed into AIDS.
To further complicate matters, doctors also discovered that this was a new strand of HIV as it had proven resistant to three out of the four classes of drugs used to treat the virus.
As New York City’s Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden explained in his interview with Forbes.com: ‘To go from infection to disease in a matter of a few months is very unusual. To do that in conjunction with such a highly resistant strain is also unusual. Putting them both together is what’s so unique.’
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that attacks and breaks down the body’s immune system, which is what fights off infections and diseases. The weakening of the immune system means a loss of the body’s protection against illnesses. Once the body has lost that protection, these illnesses can develop into serious and even life threatening infections.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the term used for the condition that people with HIV have if they develop one of the serious infections connected with HIV.
As each individual’s immune system is different, there is no fixed amount of time to progress from HIV to AIDS. However, in most cases it takes months to years for HIV to break down a person’s immune system and progress into AIDS.
‘This is a wake up call to the entire world, and particularly to places like Cayman where HIV prevalence is so low that it is believed to be non-existent,’ states Carolina Ferreira, Operations Manager for the Cayman AIDS Foundation.
‘We must use this opportunity, as frightening and disturbing as it may be, to encourage dialogue and the exchange of correct, factual information about risk and prevention,’ Ms Ferreira said. ‘As a nation, our attitude towards HIV/AIDS has been somewhat complacent, even apathetic at times, and another reminder of what a great disservice we are doing ourselves. Information and education are the most effective weapons we have to fight the spread HIV/AIDS within our community.’
‘Our community has just undergone one of, if not the worst catastrophes of its history, and we have felt first hand the effects of a disaster’ added CAF President Mr. Jennison Nunez. ‘An AIDS epidemic in the Cayman Islands is a disaster that we cannot afford to face but one that, together, we can prevent.’
Those interested in getting involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Cayman Islands can contact the Cayman AIDS Foundation at 525-AIDS (2437), the Cayman Islands Red Cross at 916-1742, or the Public Health Department at 244-2632.