AIDS take its toll in Mohave County

Thirty-eight people in the Kingman area have lost their lives to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and many more in the county are infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

In Mohave County193 clients have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, according to Christine Bronston, nursing services manager at the Mohave County Department of Health and Social Services.

Although there are medications and treatments to help control HIV symptoms, there is no cure for the disease that slowly and insidiously destroys a person's immune system.

When the immune system gets very weak, other diseases and infections can enter the body.

This stage of HIV is called AIDS.

AIDS has claimed 38 lives in the Kingman area since 1986, according to Karen Dunton, a clinical nurse and HIV/AIDS educator at Kingman Regional Medical Center She also facilitates an AIDS support group that meets monthly.

Gay people aren't the only victims of AIDS, she said.

Any person at risk can contract the disease, which is spread by someone who has HIV or AIDS through blood to blood contact, having sex, or sharing needles.

A mother can also pass HIV to the fetus in her womb, to her baby at birth or to her baby through breast milk, Dunton said.

Two heterosexual men who lost their lives to AIDS in Kingman were trying to be good Samaritans, Dunton said.

They had stopped to help a bloody accident victim out of a car at the scene of a vehicle accident, unaware that the victim had AIDS.

Both men contracted the disease and later died, Dunton said.

She explained that while trying to extricate the woman through a broken windshield the men cut themselves on the glass causing blood-to-blood contact.

But the disease is not spread by hugging, dry kissing, sharing a meal or shaking hands with someone who has HIV or AIDS, she said.

HIV is also not passed by: donating blood, telephones, toilet seats or through mosquitoes and other insects.

Eight years ago Friday Bobby was diagnosed with HIV.

Bobby, who does not want his last name published, plans to celebrate the fact that he is still alive, and he wants to let others know that the disease is preventable.

"I want people to be aware so they can make a choice, they can change their behaviors, or be more careful," he said.

"I don't want anyone to go through what I have.

It is preventable."

Years ago, Bobby was engaged in an abusive homosexual relationship.

He said the domestic violence led to bloody brawls and a broken nose, and because AIDS is spread through bodily fluids, including blood, he contracted the disease.

His partner died of AIDS10 months before Bobby was diagnosed in 1993, and his own life has not been the same since.

Once active in the bar scene he played pool and competed in dart leagues.

Now he describes himself as a "lethal weapon" because of his disease, and seeks solace in the company of other members of an AIDS support group.

He also draws comfort from his religious beliefs, which he said, "pull up the loose ends in my life," and recently completed a quilt that he donated to raise money for the group.

Hundreds of hours and nearly a quarter of a million stitches (only 30 or which are visible) hold together more than 816 pieces of the quilt Bobby designed himself.

As he stays within the confines of his home, continuing to take the medication that is keeping him alive, and living each day with a glimmer of hope for the future, Bobby realizes the life he once knew is over.

AIDS and the many complications that go with the disease have taken their toll, he said.

He suffers from diabetes, fibromyalgia, and hepatitis A, B, C and E, which occurred after HIV broke down his immune system.

But despite all the physical problems, Bobby said it is the isolation and the uncertainty of what the disease is yet to bring that is the most difficult to deal with.

"I would like a relationship, but I don't want to explain it to someone.

I don't want them to feel at risk.

I also worry about dementia.

Three percent of people that have AIDS get it," he said.

"I have heard it is as high as 10 percent."

Bobby is not alone.

Bronston said Mohave County has a high number of HIV and AIDS clients compared to other counties in the state.

One of the reasons is that Mohave County is a rural community located next to a bigger city of Las Vegas where patients can get medical services and specialists.

More than one million people are currently living with HIV in this country, and 40,000 new cases of HIV occur per year.

"Before deciding to have unprotected sex with anyone, both partners should be tested for HIV," Bronston said.

Anyone who has had risk factors in their life should be tested.

Risk factors include any episode of unprotected sex, sharing needles for any reason (drugs, piercings or tattooing), or the child of an HIV positive mother.

Testing can be done with a blood sample or an oral test that involves no needles.

In addition, HIV antibody home-testing kits can be purchased at a pharmacy.

A blood sample for testing is mailed, along with a code name or number.

Results are given by phone when the person calls and gives the code name or number.