As most of the Baltimore area braced itself for an anticipated snowstorm on the night of Jan. 16, a group of about a dozen intrepid listeners gathered in the Maryland Science Center to hear a presentation about the latest news on HIV and AIDS given by a Johns Hopkins graduate student.
The presentation, part of a series of talks known as Teacher Thursdays, took place in BodyLink, a new exhibit at the Science Center dedicated to bringing visitors the latest news and trends in biomedical research. Graduate students from Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland give the talks at Teacher Thursdays to help science teachers learn about new research and bring it to life for their students.
Daphne Monie, a Johns Hopkins graduate student in immunology, gave last week's presentation. Monie has been studying on the front lines of AIDS research in the labs of Robert Siliciano, a Hopkins professor of allergy and infectious diseases.
She had some stark news for the teachers and science center staff members who'd gathered in the BodyLink presentations area to hear her talk, which she titled "Is HIV Still a Threat?"
"There's a growing complacency in the United States about HIV," Monie said. "Youth in particular are starting to think that it's not so bad to get HIV anymore."
Monie cited a number of surveys showing that rates of risky behaviors such as unprotected sex and sex with multiple partners are increasing. Perhaps even more scary, though, was a CDC center estimate that 25 percent to 30 percent of people infected with HIV, or about 250,000 people, haven't yet found out that they have HIV.
The new complacency may in part be attributable to the development of HAART, or Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy, a practice of treating HIV infection with two or more classes of antiretroviral drugs that has slowed or checked the development of AIDS in many patients.
After describing the basic mechanisms through which a number of different AIDS medications work, new vaccines and treatments in development, and the ways that HIV can develop resistance to those treatments, Monie urged teachers to remind their students that HAART does not cure AIDS but instead keeps HIV levels in check in the body.
She also suggested that teachers should emphasize to their students the complexity of the daily drug-taking regimens involved in HAART and the drugs' potential side effects, which range from skin rash to headache to diarrhea to nightmares.
Teacher Thursdays normally include a demonstration lesson that can be used in the classroom, and Monie's involved using a bag full of candies to represent the variety and high number of drugs that HIV-infected patients have to take every day for the rest of their lives.
Monie also recommended that teachers let their students know about the anonymous and confidential options available for getting tested for HIV, and the limitations of testing. She concluded with an image of the AIDS Quilt spread out across the Mall in Washington. The quilt, assembled from thousands of individual quilts put together by surviving family members of AIDS victims, is dedicated to memorializing the human cost of AIDS.
"HIV is still a fatal infection," she said. "We need to educate our youth."
BodyLink is jointly sponsored by the Science Center, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and the University of Maryland Medical School. Exhibit director Jennifer Bistrack encourages Hopkins science and education students to attend future talks. For a schedule, go to www.mdsci.org/exhibits/bodylink/index.cfm and click on Teacher Thursdays.