A positive test

When someone tells you you’re going to die, it’s normal to have a few questions. Depending on the context, these might include “how?” and “why?”, but most importantly, “when?”

On the day that I got my HIV diagnosis, Chris, my doctor never said I was going to die — but that’s what I heard. He said “This was a positive test.” It’s an odd choice of words, a bit clumsy and scientific, but of course medically precise. The diagnosis had to be confirmed with a second test, and backed up by a T-cell count. There was the possibility that the second test would show the first to be false, but he and I both knew that wasn’t really going to happen. “Don’t get your hopes up,” he said.

The test was positive, and so was I.

In my head, “This was a positive test” became “You’re going to die.” I wanted to know what all people given this news want to know: when?

“How long have I got?” The words came out of my mouth like a line from a bad TV movie. Chris looked at me with sad eyes.

“We don’t know. Some people do better than others, but without treatment I think you would have between one and three years before you were very seriously ill. There is a treatment available — it’s called AZT — and with that you would probably double that, but better treatments are being worked on and new ones could come along in the future.

“You shouldn’t worry: you can expect to have another five to ten years with a bit of luck. And in that time, who knows — treatments might improve. Who knows? You could live for another 20 years.”

I knew he was trying to be upbeat, stretching the story as far as possible to make me feel better. But no-one lived that long with HIV, not in those days. I walked out of the surgery with a prescription for AZT and started taking it the same day.

That was twenty years ago, today. The 6th of August, 1991, when I was 27 years old and going to die.

I posted another story about the day of my diagnosis a few years ago: Hiroshima Day.

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Available now in the Buggery Boutique

Margaret Thatcher is not dead yet, but surely it can’t be long. While you wait, why not purchase one of these high quality commemorative garments from the Buggery Boutique on RedBubble?

Remember, 100% of the proceeds will be used to buy celebratory beers to mark the Iron Lady’s interment into her final rusting place.

Just click the links to buy.

Version 1 (‘Dead’):
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Version 2 (three for the price of one!):
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2068: Entire world population gay due to chemicals in the water

XKCD’s massive timeline of “The future – according to Google search results” is the most wonderfulest thing I have seen in ages. Click the image to see the whole thing.

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How to trick people into getting an HIV test

Watch this extraordinary “training video” which explains how hospital workers in Texas “encourage” patients to undergo routine HIV testing. I particularly like the part where they stress that written consent isn’t required, and there’s no need for pre-test counselling.

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Silence of the Mice

Yesterday I was on TV. Researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall institute in Melbourne made a significant breakthrough on HIV, and the media needed someone to be the voice of positive people. In my PLWHA Victoria role, this duty falls to me.

It’s not often that the Australian news media take this much interest in HIV issues at all, and when they do it’s typically bad news, so it was refreshing to see this much interest in a ‘good news’ story. The fact that the news release had the words ‘HIV’ and ‘cure’ in it probably helped (the last time the commercial TV news became interested in HIV science, that news release had the ‘C’ word in it too, so I’m seeing a pattern; from now on all my news releases will have ‘HIV cure’ in the headline).

So I scrubbed up, borrowed a clean shirt (thanks Nathan), and choofed off to WEHI to do my bit for the cause. Here’s the resulting ABC TV News item. Read on over the page for the horrifying truth.

(The Channel 10 version is also available, on YouTube, if you’re really keen.)

Continue reading

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Malmsbury Reservoir

We live quite close to Malmsbury Reservoir, a large dam constructed in 1866 to supply water to Bendigo. For most of the time we’ve been here, the dam has been practically empty. Not any more.

A year ago, the dam was 6% full, now it’s overflowing. Here’s a photo I took in October, after the first round of flooding and heavy rain in what has turned out to be a very wet Spring and Summer, and another one I took today.

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12 October 2010

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14 January 2011

There are a lot more photos of the flooding around our area on Flickr.

Piggy Gets Perforated

Nathan got his nipples pierced yesterday. I documented the event for him on video. Enjoy!

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HIV infections aren’t going up, they’re going down

The annual HIV surveillance figures are out today and, as usual, there is lots of reporting of apparently bad figures. “Australians newly diagnosed with HIV totalled 1050 during 2009, the highest number in almost two decades,” according to this AAP story.

Indeed, there was a rise in HIV diagnoses last year, and we’ve crossed the seemingly symbolic 1000-cases barrier, and that is of course significant cause for concern. But HIV diagnoses have been up around the 1000 mark for several years now, and deaths from AIDS are at an all-time low – just nine people were reported to have died from AIDS-related causes in 2009, a piece of good news that the media has pretty much ignored. Because of this, the number of people living with HIV in Australia has risen every year, and so the number of new HIV diagnoses should be read in that context.

The chart below shows what happens when you do. The blue and green lines show the number of HIV diagnoses per year since 2000, and the consequent raw incidence rate per 100,000 population. The pink line shows the raw incidence rate per 100 people living with HIV, and shows a clear downward trend since 2005, as HIV infections have not risen in proportion to the number of positive people living in Australia. (Click the image to see a larger version).

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To my mind, this is a significant piece of good news that the media has ignored. But that’s not surprising as NCHECR’s annual surveillance report doesn’t include this measure, making a ‘bad news’ interpretation of the data almost inevitable.

That falling pink line suggests that positive people are succeeding in preventing onward HIV transmission. With a larger HIV-positive population, you’d naturally expect more HIV transmission to occur, yet this isn’t happening.

If this falling incidence rate were acknowledged, we could begin to ask why it is so. What has changed since 2005 to reduce HIV incidence, and how can we extend that success? Reported rates of unprotected sex among gay men have risen during that period, so how do we explain this apparently contradictory effect? These are important, and potentially valuable, questions.

HIV incidence is falling, not rising, when you take into account the growing positive population. This is something we should be celebrating, and for which positive people should be congratulated, instead of focusing on raw numbers that give a skewed perception of the epidemiology of HIV in Australia.

There are several caveats to the data I used for the chart. Most of the data came from the published NCHECR surveillance reports, which can be found here and from ABS population data. The 2010 report isn’t up yet, so I have taken the figures for 2009 from today’s media reports. And as I say, I’m no statistician, so I will accept criticism of my methods with my usual sanguine humour.

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FCKH8

I love this sassy (but NSFW – lots of F-bombs) promo for FCKH8, a fundraising initiative supporting the campaign against California’s Proposition 8 anti gay marriage bill.

More info about the campaign.

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HIV/AIDS: A new first impression

Myles Helfand, editor of TheBody.com, writing in the Huffington Post on HIV stigma:

Never mind that more than half of all people in the U.S. who get HIV/AIDS are heterosexual, and that most people who get it are not injection-drug users. Or that it whittles away the immune system in the same manner regardless of a person’s sex, gender, race, age, education level, wealth, geographic location or the manner in which they’re infected.

It’s the first impression that matters. And that first impression was that HIV/AIDS was something sinners got for doing things they shouldn’t: Having sex with men. Using drugs. Acts of which God does not approve, as has been made clear by luminaries such as Pope Benedict XVI and Delaware’s masturbation-averse Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell.

Read the full article.

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