The New York City Health Department debuts the subway ad component of its latest HIV prevention campaign, “It’s Never Just HIV.” Reinforcing the campaign video spot released in December, the posters speak directly to those currently at greatest risk to become infected – men who have sex with men – in an effort to combat complacency about HIV while promoting condom use. The ads serve as a stark reminder that when you are infected with HIV, it’s never just HIV; the infection has lifelong consequences that can range from dementia to bone loss and cancer even though treatment can control the virus and save lives. To continue the conversation sparked by the campaign’s original TV spots, the Department also released an Internet video in which Dr. Monica Sweeney, the agency’s assistant commissioner for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control, discusses the rationale behind the new ads as well as the urgent need for their message to be heard. The ads and the video can be viewed at nyc.gov.
“We are very concerned with rising rates of new HIV infections in young men who have sex with men, particularly those who are African-American and Hispanic,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “More than half, 57%, of all new HIV diagnoses in New York City were among black and Hispanic men in 2009. These messages are designed to remind young men that, even with the tremendous progress that has been made in treatment for this disease, it is still dangerous and the best way to stay HIV-free is to use condoms consistently.”
HIV infection is no longer the death sentence it once was. By starting medication early and adhering to it carefully, HIV-positive people can live longer lives and reduce the risk of infecting others. Although treatment can suppress the virus and prevent the destruction of the immune system, growing evidence suggests that damage done in the early stages of infection can have lasting effects – even among people who get treatment. The conditions depicted in the new ads– bone loss, dementia and anal cancer – are just three of many that HIV can lead to.
In 2009, gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for 43% of newly diagnosed HIV infections in New York City– more than any group – and they experienced more than half of new diagnoses (57%) among men. In the agency’s new Internet video, Dr. Sweeney explains, “Some 4,000 New Yorkers are newly infected every year. And the rate of new diagnoses is rising among young gay and bisexual men. In fact, the number of men who have sex with men under age 30 who are newly reported with HIV has risen by 50% over the last several years. This increase in new HIV infections 30 years into the epidemic is unacceptable to me and should be unacceptable to all of us. We have to respond strongly to prevent a new generation from getting this incurable infection.”
How to protect yourself and others
If you’re having sex, the safest relationship is a faithful one with one partner who is HIV-negative. If your partner is HIV-positive – or either of you has other sex partners – here are some ways to reduce your risk:
- Never have sex without a condom. Use only latex or polyurethane condoms, with lubrication.
- Reduce your number of sexual partners. The more partners you have, the greater your risk.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs when you have sex. You’re less likely to use a condom if your judgment is impaired.
- Know your sexual partners. Get tested together for HIV and other STDs before you have sex.
- Pick up a copy of HIV, Gay Men and Other Men who have Sex with Men, which contains the information mentioned here and much more. Call 311 or visit nyc.gov to find out where you can get a copy.
Know your HIV status – get tested!
If you have ever had sex or have ever injected drugs, even once, you should get tested for HIV. Men who have sex with men should get tested at least every six months if you’re at continued risk. Just remember that taking an HIV test does not protect you from HIV.
- Your regular health care provider can give you an HIV test. In fact, New York State law now requires primary care providers to offer voluntary HIV tests to any patient between 13 and 64 years of age, even during routine visits. If you are not offered an HIV test, ask for one.
- Free and confidential HIV tests are also available at Health Department STD clinics in all five boroughs. For clinic locations and hours, call 311 or visit nyc.gov (keyword HIV testing). The clinics will serve you regardless of your immigration or insurance status.
Get tested for other STDs
If a sexually transmitted disease (STD) causes breaks or sores in your skin, it can increase your risk of getting or spreading HIV. STDs can also weaken your immune system, making you more likely to become infected with HIV if you’re exposed.
Condoms: Still the Best Protection
Using a condom every time you have anal, oral or vaginal sex protects you and your partners from getting HIV and other STDs, such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, genital herpes, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
The Health Department offers free NYC Condoms, lubricant, female condoms and alternative male condoms (different sizes, textures and flavors) at thousands of venues around New York City. For more information, call 311, go to nyc.gov (keyword condoms), or join the discussion on the NYC Condom Facebook page.