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Posted by Rev. Jeff Dixon, Senior Equipping Minister at Covenant Community Church on Jan 2, 2002, 20:30

In this edition of Counseling 101 we tackle the topic of AIDS. This is one of the most frightening words in the English language. We hope that what you read will help you find some of the answers you seek.

Question: Counselor, what exactly is AIDS?

Counselor: I am glad to be with you to discuss this important contemporary subject. The word AIDS is an acronym for a much longer official name, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is an infectious disease caused by a virus now known as the HIV or Human Immune Deficiency virus. This virus can be caught from other people by various means. Slowly but surely, it infects the body of the new victim. The infection, once it begins, produces a variety of symptoms and physical effects.

Question: Why is there so much concern about AIDS?

Counselor: AIDS is such a frightening disease because there is no cure. It affects just about every organ. After the slowly progressive course of the illness, it invariably causes early death. The symptoms can be treated and the course of the disease can be slowed a little, but death is certain.

Question: That's heavy stuff. But tell me, why is the AIDS virus so serious and so deadly?

Counselor: The AIDS virus is so deadly because it attacks the very heart of our defense system. The body's immune system normally provides us with the weapons we need to win the constant battles of evading viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other causes of diseases. This defense system is powerful, but it isn't perfect. Most attacks are detected and beaten off with ease. We don't even know anything is happening in our bodies. But, occasionally, a bug will get us or a cold or flu virus will make its pass. The first wave of the body's defense called antibodies can produce billions. However, the second wave of defense will sweep out and attack the virus or bacteria and eliminate it and we recover from the illness. We felt bad; we slowed down for a few days; but we are not seriously affected.

Question: Why doesn't this happen with the AIDS virus?

Counselor: That is a very good question. At first, this was a mystery, but we soon learned that the AIDS virus creeps in like a thief in the night and invades immune cells. It lives within the immune cells, divides, and keeps on growing slowly destroying the immune cell itself. While it destroys the immune system's ability to respond to disease, the AIDS virus spreads to all parts of the body. Also because the immune system has been weakened, other kinds of diseases can attack the body as well, eventually causing serious illness and eventually death. So you see the AIDS virus is a powerful enemy. Unfortunately, we so far have not discovered any real weapon to fight it once it has gotten into the body.

Question: It must be terrible to have AIDS or even to think you might have it. What are the symptoms of AIDS?

Counselor: The symptoms of AIDS are subtle and not very specific. There may be repeated minor infections, general tiredness, unexplained weight loss, or other non-specific symptoms of illness such as diarrhea, cough, rashes, sores on the skin. Many of these symptoms are similar to those of other common illnesses such as a cold or the flu. The difference is the severity and the duration. It is important for me to say that a person cannot self-diagnose AIDS. The symptoms are very general and unspecific. The only way that the disease can be diagnosed is by a physical examination and by medical tests that detect the presence of the AIDS virus.

Question: Counselor, there seems to be a lot of confusion about how somebody gets AIDS. Exactly how is this disease caught?

Counselor: Well, that is the most important question. Since no effective treatment exists, prevention is the key. And I may add AIDS is a totally preventable disease. AIDS transmission occurs in a very few particular ways. AIDS is transmitted by sexual contact, blood contamination, and from pregnant mother to unborn child. In other words, in order to catch AIDS from another person, you must come in contact with the blood or bloody body fluids of the other person.

Question: I can understand most of that, but what do you mean by blood contamination?

Counselor: Blood contamination happens when blood from an infected individual enters directly into another person's bloodstream. One way this happens, it has happened in the past anyway, is through blood transfusions in which blood from an infected individual was given to an uninfected person. It's extremely rare in the U.S. today. Since becoming aware of the AIDS virus, special tests and some special precautions have been set up to decrease the possibility of contaminated blood being used in hospitals. The most common way for blood contamination to occur is through intravenous drug use. In this situation, a person addicted to drugs such as narcotics or uppers uses a dirty needle which has also been used by an AIDS-infected individual. In the process, they not only inject themselves with drugs, they inject themselves with the AIDS virus. This is now a major problem and many new cases of AIDS are caused by drug use like this. It's also possible to pass on the virus with shared tattoo needles, for instance, or razor blades or even using the same toothbrush. The common element in all of these is getting blood of an infected person directly into the bloodstream of another person.

Question: I can understand how the virus then can pass then from a pregnant mother to her unborn baby.

Counselor: Yes, there is continuous contact between the blood of the mother and the blood of the unborn baby. So it is obvious that the virus can pass from the mother to the child. That's one of the saddest legacies we have from the AIDS epidemic. The innocent child is born with a fatal infection.

Question: But, Counselor, what about sexual transmission of the virus? How does that occur?

Counselor: The AIDS virus is transmitted from one person to another primarily through sexual activity. Any form of sexual intercourse can transmit the infection.

Question: But I thought it was only through homosexual activity that one could catch AIDS.

Counselor: Certainly, homosexual activity makes one very vulnerable because of the unnaturalness of the homosexual intercourse. There is a lot more irritation to the tissues; thus, the chance for blood contamination. I want to emphasize that any type of sexual intercourse can lead to infection when one of the persons involved has the virus.

Question: Are there other kinds of ways of getting AIDS, you know, like kissing, toilet seats?

Counselor: Well, other forms of activity are very unlikely to result in infection. As far as kissing, the normal mouth-to-mouth kiss is not dangerous at all. Deep, hard, intensive kissing with biting could be a way of transmitting the disease from an infected person to a non-infected person, particularly, if one of the individuals has cuts or sores on the mouth. The virus cannot be passed through contact with a toilet seat or contact with like a water fountain. The virus is very fragile outside the human body and it dies immediately.

Question: AIDS is a really scary thing, Counselor. How can a person avoid getting it?

Counselor: That's probably the most important question we'll discuss. Although there has been much discussion about this topic, many people are still confused. However, we don't need to be confused about the subject. The avoidance of AIDS is actually very simple. You can be virtually sure that they will not get AIDS if you avoid using drugs and practice a biblically based sex life.

Question: Now, what exactly do you mean by a biblically based sex life?

Counselor: Biblically based sex means refraining from all forms of sexual intercourse until you are in a committed marriage relationship and remain faithful to your husband or wife. All partners who are faithful in this way will never become contaminated with the AIDS virus. They can enjoy their sexuality in a mutually enjoyable and exciting way. They will have no need to worry about the consequences of their sexual activities. Now promiscuity, on the other hand, is very dangerous. You see, the more sexual partners one has, the more likely that person is to come across somebody who has the virus. It only takes one quick sex act with an infected person to become contaminated for life yourself. So the key word to avoiding AIDS totally and completely is abstinence.

Question: Nowadays we are hearing a lot about safe sex.

Counselor: The only safe sex is a lifetime commitment to one uninfected partner. No other sexual practice is 100 percent safe. Condoms, even when used compulsively with all sexual intercourse, do not work all the time. Safe promiscuous sex simply doesn't exist.

Question: Counselor, what you are telling me sounds a lot like the Ten Commandments and other stuff you would here at church.

Counselor: You are so right. You know, some people have come to think of the Ten Commandments as something old-fashioned, out-of-date, irrelevant. In fact, many people see the Ten Commandments as well as the laws of God in general as coming from a God who is sour-faced, unhappy, and stern-one that tries to think of ways of making the lives of men and women, particularly the lives of teens, unpleasant and miserable. They think, He thought up the Ten Commandments and these other rules and regulations to limit our lives and put fences around us and make us miserable. I'd like to say, first of all, that the God in the Bible is a loving and caring God. He is also a God with a sense of humor, and a God who loves life because He created life. He wants life to be lived to the fullest. Originally, He gave the Ten Commandments to Moses because He saw men and women making fools of themselves. He saw them hurting themselves through the way that they lived. So He spoke to Moses and gave him the Ten Commandments. In a real sense, we should think of the Ten Commandments like an owner's manual. When we buy a car, we find in the glove compartment of that car a manual which tells us how the car works. It tells us how to turn it on, how to turn it off, how to put it in gear. It tells us how to change the oil, how the different parts of the car work, and what to do to keep the thing working to its highest efficiency level. The Ten Commandments and the other laws of God that we find in the Bible are God's owner's manual for us. God is our maker, our manufacturer. He knows how we work. He knows what makes us run smoothly spiritually. Not only spiritually but, also, emotionally and physically. He knows what attitudes and practices will work out best for us in the long run, and He also knows the ones that will be harmful to us in the long run. So when He gave us the Ten Commandments and His other rules, He was basically saying "I have made you and I know how you work. If you will live by these rules that I am giving to you, I promise that you'll work well. Your mind, soul and body will work together for the maximum good so that you can have the happiest and most meaningful life possible." When God gave us the seventh commandment and He said, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," it was not wanting to make our lives miserable. He said that because He knew about AIDS for one thing. He also knew about the emotional consequences of promiscuity, abortion, and premature sexual commitment. He gave us His rules because He loves us and because He wants to make our lives as rich as possible.

Question: Counselor, I haven't heard you say that sex itself is bad.

Counselor: Oh, absolutely not. Our sexuality is one of those things that God created in us when He made us. And if you remember going back to Genesis in the story of creation, everything that God made He said was good. When He finished making man, He said "It is good." God made our sexuality and it is good. However, it is a very powerful part of our personality and our being, and it must be used correctly or it becomes a force for hurt and pain rather than a force for good. If it is used as God has guided us and directed us to use it, then our sexuality is a beautiful, positive, exciting part of our nature.

Question: What if a person has not lived up to the ideal of sexual abstinence at this point? Should he worry?

Counselor: Well, if the person has been promiscuous, that is had sex with many other partners or if a person has had sex with someone he knew to have AIDS, he is at some risk for having caught the disease. In that circumstance, they should be tested. They should be tested for two reasons. Maybe they haven't caught the disease yet, and then they wouldn't have to worry. If they do have the virus in their system, they can immediately begin to receive medical care. Blood tests are available which are fairly simple that will determine if one has the AIDS virus in their system.

Question: How does somebody go about getting these tests done?

Counselor: It can be done in any doctor's office or medical lab. Some communities have some special clinics where you can go to have the test done.

Question: What should a person do if he is worried about having AIDS?

Counselor: I would certainly encourage that teen to talk to somebody they can trust. Hopefully, they would be able to talk to their family physician so that he could examine them and do what ever testing is necessary.

Question: Then it sounds like the best plan is not to get AIDS in the first place.

Counselor: You are certainly right about that. Someday there may be a cure for AIDS, but there is certainly not one now. It can be treated and slowed down, but we don't have any real cure. So you are right. Prevention is the key.

Question: Now, before we leave our listener, do you have any last comments that you would like to make?

Counselor: Yes. This has really been a difficult subject to talk about. Most of us don't like to talk about things that are as serious as this. We don't like to talk about our own sexuality, but it is a subject that we must talk about because it is a real problem in our world today. However, I'd like to bring a message of hope to you. God has shown us how to avoid getting AIDS by practicing responsible, biblically-based sex. And the Bible brings us the message that God loves us regardless of what we have done, regardless of any mistakes we have made in the past. The Bible tells us that God loves us, that He will forgive us if we ask Him and that He will help us overcome any problems that we have.'

Question: I think all of us need to believe that.

Counselor: I agree, I want every person to remember: You are not alone. God is there with you and He cares for you and for what happens to you.

This is offered as a word of encouragement and help. It is not an exhaustive source of information. As always we would recommend that you seek the help of a professional to take the next step in discovering relief from your concerns.

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