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Despite Advances, HIV/AIDS Still Takes Heavy Emotional Toll
Date:12/1/2011

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Dec. 1 (HealthDay News) -- For many it's a good news/bad news scenario.

People with HIV/AIDS are living longer and healthier lives than ever before, but they still have a chronic disease that's potentially fatal and carries a heavy stigma, said Jorie Barna, a care coordinator for the AIDS/HIV Services Group in Charlottesville, Va.

Barna, who lived in San Francisco during the 1980s and 1990s, said she saw the debilitating and deadly toll that HIV/AIDS took before the development of lifesaving antiretroviral medications.

"Living with HIV today is very manageable," said Barna, 43, who has a case load of 50 patients whom she monitors. "If somebody were to take care of themselves, eat well, keep their stress levels down, exercise regularly and take their medications, they could live long lives. I think in another decade, living with HIV will be like diabetes. You just have to take care of yourself."

Despite the medical advances, however, the mental toll that HIV/AIDS takes on people remains strong, Barna said, particularly in less-urban parts of the country.

"Stigma is still huge, huge here," she said. "A lot of people still associate HIV and AIDS as being a gay disease, which is not true at all. A lot of my straight men struggle because they don't want to be seen as homosexual."

Also, many of the people Barna helps were already at risk for infection because of other conditions.

"The issues that originally put them at risk for HIV infection have not been addressed," she said. "They're still struggling with mental health or substance abuse. They may be taking their medications and their HIV is stable, but they have other problems."

In addition, HIV/AIDS can have a severe financial impact on people, particularly if their infection was detected late and they've been incapacitated by it.

"People go on disability because they are too ill to work, but
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