HOUSTON — A lot has changed in conversations about the human immunodeficiency virus, better known as HIV.
Take Tiffany Quinton for example. She is a Houston woman living with the virus who found out about her diagnosis after going back to work from maternity leave.
"The lady that had given me my results had never given positive results before," Quinton said. "She told me I was getting ready to die -- with a 9-month-old baby. I just started screaming.”
It was the fear of the unknown that worried Quinton the most. She got diagnosed with the incurable virus back in 1995 and received little to no information about it.
“I found love. Then I lost it," she said. That’s what hurt.”
That's why Quinton said she's open about her journey because not everyone can handle it.
“If I don’t tell you anything, you don’t know anything," she said. "But people know my story, I don’t know their story. I don’t have any shame about what has happened to me. I want to be that vessel and that voice for the voiceless.”
Part of the problem with HIV is that people don't want to talk about it.
“Sex is taboo and we don’t openly talk about sex, particularly in the South," said Robin Hardwicke, an HIV specialist with UT Physicians. "It’s talked about behind closed doors.”
But stigmas surrounding other sexually transmitted infections are not as harsh.
“Syphilis is hands down the most rampant," Hardwicke said. "The one that I’m seeing five to six times a week. And it’s both men and women.”
Most people don't even know they have an STI until symptoms arise or they're tested for something else. According to doctors, by that point, you've probably been carrying the infection for a while.
That's why Quinton speaks up.
“If I can save one life, then it’s been worth it for me," she said.
Quinton is now engaged and her son is now 28 years old and HIV-negative.
Doctors say there are more men living with HIV than women, but in the South, more women of color are testing positive for HIV.
According to the CDC, if you are a Black man who has sex with other men, you have a 50% chance of contracting HIV.
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