73-year-old Ann Nash has been living HIV-positive for decades. While she says it's no longer a death sentence, Nash tells 10News that young people, especially, need to take it more seriously.
“I have HIV, but HIV does not have me,” says Nash.
Nash has been living with HIV, since being diagnosed in 1989, 3 weeks after her husband found out that he had it.
“Huge shock, simply first of all, because I couldn't understand after being married for 25 years that he would not trust me enough to tell me the truth."
The next few years, she says was the lowest point in her life. She was suffering from the disease in silence while caring for her dying husband.
“He lived two years. It was a rough haul. Very rough,” says Nash.
It was a time when Magic Johnson stunned the nation, announcing his retirement from the NBA after testing positive for HIV.
Back then, Ann had to take a dozen pills a day. Now, she's down to one.
When asked if she believes people don’t take it as seriously now, she replies, “They definitely don’t. It's like being diabetic, or having cancer, or any of the other diseases, and it's not. By giving that mindset, especially to young people, they're saying, ‘Oh it's no big deal. I can pop a pill,” says Nash.
“I don't think people think of it that seriously. There's a lot of STDs that go around. You can just have a pill, and it goes away. I think people think of it more like that now,” says college student Amy Arcary.
Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have the highest number of HIV cases in the Bay area.
10News reached out to both school districts who say they follow state guidelines: teaching 5th graders about HIV and AIDS prevention, again in 6th and 8th grade with an optional condom lesson. But, they don’t hand out condoms.
Some advocates say it's not enough.
“Abstinence-based education did not work, especially if rates are going up, they did not work. Have condoms available,” says EPIC Executive Director Joy Winheim.
While Ann couldn't protect herself, she's urging others to and working with HIV and AIDS clients at Francis House in Tampa.
She’s also living her life to the fullest. “I've been to 18 countries, including China, three of them twice. I'm going to live. I'm going to do everything I want to do, that I can do,” says Nash.
In Hillsborough and Pinellas County stats show primarily men, Hispanics and blacks have seen the most recent spike in HIV cases.
Nash says there is support and services available. EPIC helps some 1,600 clients and has free HIV testing for thousands more.
The Florida Department of Health says: Young people are impacted by sexually transmitted diseases other than HIV. CDC estimates that youth ages 15-24 make up over one-quarter of the sexually active population, but account for half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections that occur in the United States each year. The only way to avoid HIV and other STDs is to not have sex, however, sexually active teens can take the follow steps to lower the risk of infection:
• Use condoms the right way every time you have sex;
• Talk to your health care provider about getting testing for HIV or locate a clinic near you for free, fast and confidential testing; and
• If you test positive for HIV or other STDs, get treated right away and be sure your sexual partner is tested and treated as well.