HIV testing planned around Dallas on Saturday

AIDS Arms Inc. and Dallas County Health and Human Services have scheduled HIV testing at various locations around Dallas County on Saturday, Sept. 18, which has been declared National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day.

According to county HHS Director Zachary Thompson, the 50-and-older population is one group that’s contracting HIV at higher rates than the general population.

Rubin Ramirez of Resource Center Dallas said he thinks people in this age group have become immune to the HIV prevention message because of treatments that are now available.

For more on some new Dallas County HIV/AIDS initiatives, see Friday’s Dallas Voice.

Testing times and locations are below:

—  David Taffet

UTSW seeks volunteers for HIV vaccine trial

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center announced on Friday, Sept. 10, that they are looking for people at high risk of contracting HIV to participate in a three-year, nationwide clinical trial intended to determine whether a combination of two potential HIV vaccines will stimulate an immune response against the virus.

Dr. Mamta Jain, assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern, will be principal investigator for the study locally. She said the trial is designed to determine whether the new combo-vaccine will reduce the HIV viral load of people who subsequently become infected with HIV, preventing the onset of AIDS. She said that the combo-vaccine is composed of man-made proteins found in HIV, not the virus itself, and stressed that participants could not contract HIV from the vaccine. She also said the combo vaccine is designed to produce T-cells and antibody responses against HIV, and that it has proven safe in animals and hundreds of human volunteers during previous clinical trials.

The trial, known as the HVTN 505 study, will include 1,350 volunteers nationally who will be assigned randomly to receive either the combo vaccine or a placebo. Researchers with the study locally are looking for 40-50 volunteers to participate through UT Southwestern. The next closest site where the trial is being conducted is the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic in Birmingham, about 650 miles from Dallas.

Investigators are looking for healthy, HIV-negative men between 18 and 45 who have sex with men, and transgender women who have sex with men. Participants will receive three shots of the combo vaccine or a placebo, plus a booster shot, within the first six months. They will then be asked to return every three months over the next three years for an HIV test, an interview and risk reduction counseling.

The study, funded by the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, “may help us better understand why some people develop AIDS and others don’t,” Jain said. “If you could prevent people from getting sick with AIDS, that’s a tremendous accomplishment.”

For more information about the clinical trial, call 214-590-0610 or 214-590-0603, or go online to HopeTakesAction.org. Go online to UTSouthwestern.org/InfectiousDiseases for more information about UT Southwestern’s clinical services for infectious diseases.

—  admin

Meth and gay men: Tweaking, no thinking

One man’s story of his journey from HIV-positive drug addict on a downward spiral to HIV education advocate has a lesson for the whole gay community, especially youth

Leslie Robinson  General Gayety

“In my brief moments of clarity I knew my life was supposed to be better than this.”

Who said that? Who had mere seconds of clarity? Yogi Berra? Dan Quayle? Maxwell Smart?

If you guessed Lindsay Lohan, you’re getting warm.

The speaker was 26-year-old Jordan Duran, who in an interview with The Seattle Times described his addiction to crystal meth. He was part of a story about young gays contracting HIV through meth use.

As happy a topic as exploding oil rigs.

There is some happiness connected with Duran’s story: He’s alive. Not long ago you’d have gotten better odds on Mel Gibson joining the diplomatic corps.

Duran struggled in his hometown of Puyallup, about 35 miles south of Seattle. By the age of 5, he knew he was different from other boys. In high school he seized on religion. Duran even went to a therapist who “specialized” in reversing homosexuality.

During his senior year, he came out.

After graduation he headed for Seattle, moving in with an older man who apparently took his role as mentor very seriously, arranging official introductions for his protégé — to ecstasy, ketamine, GHB and then meth.

“From the first time I took meth I was hooked,” said Duran. “It was about escaping from who I was, and meth was the perfect drug to wash it all away.”

Chocolate does the same for me, but oddly, it doesn’t have that effect on everyone.

On his 21st birthday, Duran drank a boatload and then scored some meth. He had unprotected sex with a stranger.

A few weeks later it became clear what he’d gotten for his birthday: HIV. And many happy returns.

Joshua O’Neal, who does HIV testing research at a local hospital, told The Seattle Times that three-quarters of those who test HIV-positive at his clinic have used meth.

Said O’Neal, “When you feel invincible, you don’t care about using a condom.”

After he tested positive, Duran’s downward spiral got a move on. By 23, he was using meth 20 times each day.

Most people don’t do anything 20 times a day — except breathe.

He had unsafe sex. Staph infections and MRSA were frequent visitors. He contracted syphilis, which spread to his brain, causing disorientation. He was homeless.

Only Dante could do justice to this circle of hell.

Finally Duran saw a doctor, who happened to resemble his grandmother. She asked if he was using meth, and told him if he continued to use he’d be dead within six months from an overdose or the HIV.

Grandma took no prisoners. Thank goodness.

“Up until that point I was afraid of living, but suddenly I was afraid of dying,” said Duran.

He went directly from the doctor’s to an AA meeting, and began the arduous task of getting clean.

“Quitting the drugs wasn’t the hard part,” he said. “Feeling my emotions was the hard part.”

Duran has been victorious in the smackdown with his emotions — he’s been sober for well over two years. Soon after starting antiretroviral drugs, his viral load was undetectable.

He now works for Gay City Health Project, which focuses on gay men’s health. When someone on the skids comes in and tells him he doesn’t know what it’s like, Duran must struggle not to guffaw.

In Seattle’s King County, in the space of a year, about 10 percent of gay and bisexual men use crystal meth. For men under the age of 30, the figure is twice as high.

Combine that with the studies saying gay men who use meth are at scary-high risk for contracting HIV, and it all adds up to a real problem: tweaking twinks who can’t think.

E-mail Leslie Robinson at lesarobinson@gmail.com, and visit her blog at GeneralGayety.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens