Failure to take responsibility in a sexual relationship, misdiagnosis and denial are causing more and more women to contract the HIV virus and to develop AIDS, a mother whose illness was diagnosed as the virus told Pierce College students this week.
More than 250 students crowded the college’s Campus Center to hear the talk by Sharon Lund, 41, who has the virus, and her daughter, Jeaneen, who does not. The event was the highlight of the college’s AIDS Awareness Week.
Lund, who tested positive for HIV seven years ago, captivated the audience with a sometimes tear-choked plea for women to take a more responsible role to prevent contracting the virus.
“My husband became infected prior to my infection,” Lund said. “I did not know. He did not have any of the symptoms.”
Five months later, they were divorced. Two years passed, “then I saw him on a Dan Rather show saying he was dying of AIDS. I ran in and got tested,” Lund said.
But Lund said she does not blame her infection on her ex-husband, who died four years ago. “I could have told him to wear a condom. Nobody’s to blame except for yourself.”
Jeaneen Lund, a 16-year-old high school student, said she hopes to inform both male and female students about the danger of sex.
Too many teen-agers, she said later, are still not practicing safer sex or abstaining from sex altogether, even after Magic Johnson’s surprise announcement two weeks ago that he has the HIV virus. “They think they’re immortal,” she said.
But her mother said AIDS is the fifth leading cause of death among women ages 18 to 41. Besides irresponsible behavior in a sexual relationship, misdiagnosis and denial are the main reasons behind these grim statistics, she said.
“What we’re seeing is women are dying three to four times faster of AIDS because of misdiagnosis,” she said. Many symptoms such as yeast infections or cervical cancer sometimes associated with the HIV virus may be seen by doctors as simply female problems, Sharon Lund said.
To be sure they don’t have the virus, women should be tested anonymously at least three times a year, she said.
Women who test positive too often risk developing full-blown acquired immune deficiency syndrome, Sharon Lund said. “Their priorities are still husband, family, work,” she said.
Although more than 1 million people nationally are believed infected with the HIV virus, AIDS experts say it is unclear what percentage are women.
But the statistics added up to a sobering reality for some of students at the talk.
“It actually makes you think that it can happen to you and you should take all the precautions you can,” said Kim Smith, 18, a Pierce freshman. “It’s not just the man’s responsibility.”