BY NATASHYA GUTIERREZ,
An old virus’ new victims: HIV is now infecting the youth faster than any other age group, due in part, to technology and unsafe sex.
It all started with a simple Facebook message.
“Hi, how are you? Where are you from?” began the conversation.
Jake*, 21, responded to the message and started a flurry of exchanges with his new friend online. It went on for weeks – getting to know each other, sharing personal information, and later, talking about sex.
His 24-year-old online friend did not have any photos on his profile, but he did send Jake a photo of himself. “I never expected him to be so good-looking, with a nice body,” Jake said.
They met in person weeks later.
It was only Jake’s second time to have sex ever. The first time had been when he was just 18, with a friend, but this one was the first time he had ever slept with someone he met online.
They had sex that one time, and never again. But once was enough to change the rest of Jake’s life.
First, his weight dropped so rapidly, his cheeks became sunken, his face gaunter. Then his throat started to hurt, became sore and painful, making it harder to swallow. In the evening, he woke up in cold sweats, sheets soaked, despite air conditioning on full blast.
And then the flu-like symptoms went away in a week, as quickly as they came. “Just a fever,” he thought.
Jake graduated a few months later, among the top of his class, with cum laude honors. He was all set to become a seafarer and was scheduled to embark on a ship for his first job.
But Jake never made it onboard. The symptoms were a sign of something much more serious than the flu.
Jake was HIV positive.
When it hits
“I was actually crying not because I was positive. I was crying because I was thinking I won’t be able to fulfill my dreams for my family,” he said, remembering the moment he found out. “Because you know the discrimination, the stigma, the restrictions in terms of working environment, especially at sea.”
Jake had taken the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) test on a complete whim, after HIV educators came to campus to inform students about its risks, bringing testing gear with them.
He took the test without fear or worry – “I am not that aggressive in terms of sex, it was only my second time” – but did so out of convenience. There was no doubt in his mind about his status, even when his friend got a sealed envelope and he got nothing. Not even when he was made to wait for two hours. Or when he was called to come inside, unlike those who came before him.
And then the news came – a sudden hit, like a bolt of lighting, unexpected, but with such precision and intensity. There was no question of “Are you sure?” or “It can’t be true,” but only a shock that very quickly gave way to know how the virus came to be in him.
“When they told me that I was positive, I just cried. Then I asked them, ‘What’s next?’ I didn’t know what to do. Like after graduation, ‘What’s next?’ I just didn’t know what to do after that.”