University Health Services hopes to increase student awareness of HIV, AIDS as cases in Austin rise

Jeremy Thomas

HIV and AIDS cases are on the rise in the Austin/Travis County area, according to a study by the Travis County Medical Society Journal. Despite the increase in reported cases, slightly less than 27 percent of UT students report ever being tested for the disease, according to a
University study,

Each fall, the UT registrar’s office provides University Health Services with a list of 8,000 random students to survey for information on topics such as sexual and mental health, drug use and alcohol. The information received goes into UT’s National College Health Assessment. In 2013, 934 students gave survey responses, and only .1 percent reported being treated for HIV in the last 12 months.

“Even though we have a very small number of students that test positive for HIV, [UHS does] not have a ton of students that report that they use condoms all the time,” said Gulielma Fager, University Health Services health promotion coordinator. “With only one in four of our students being tested, we don’t know if there are students in our population who could have HIV and not know it.”

HIV is a virus that spreads throughout the body and damages specific cells in the immune system. Over time, the virus kills T-cells in the immune system, preventing the body from fighting diseases. HIV infections can then form into AIDS.

In the January/February 2014 issue of the Travis County Medical Society Journal, a study found the number of people living with HIV in the Austin/Travis County area increased more than 40 percent since 2006. Philip Huang, medical director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, said people are receiving better treatments now and live longer with the disease. 

“But then, still, we are getting a whole lot of new cases,” Huang said. “There seems to be some complacency, perhaps, that people don’t take [HIV/AIDS as] seriously as they used to.”

Marketing senior Ariel Brown said she thought students might not take the issue of HIV/AIDS as seriously as they should.

“Most young people aren’t really that concerned with the disease because we have more knowledge of it, unlike in the ’80s or when the disease was first recognized,” Brown said. “This disease can affect everyone and not just a single group of people.”

University Health Services also tries to encourage students to use condoms for reasons other than HIV prevention, according to Fager.

“Chlamydia is transmitted in the same way as HIV in that it is a fluid-based infection, so that means if someone has chlamydia, that means they were having unprotected sex with someone,” Fager said. “And if they’re having unprotected sex, they’re at risk for HIV. As long as they’re using condoms, they’re preventing HIV and chlamydia.”

Fager said using condoms is the best course of action students can take to prevent contracting HIV. 

“I want students to think of condoms as their seat belts and airbag,” Fager said. “It doesn’t matter what you think of the person’s driving. It’s still incredibly important for people to use condoms because that’s the most effective way that people can reduce their risk — that and knowing your status, and the only way to know your status is to get tested.”