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Church event to air AIDS facts

Published Oct. 8, 2005

AIDS. In Florida, this disease has touched schools, work places and areas of recreation, and more than ever, it is affecting church congregations.

First Presbyterian Church on Washington Avenue in Inverness will holding a seminar on HIV/AIDS to help local residents, from teenagers to retirees, deal with the affects of this illness and the people inflicted with it.

The topics Sunday will include HIV/AIDS information, a presentation by people living with AIDS, talks by the parents of people afflicted with AIDS and a discussion of church-based AIDS ministries and theological views of the disease. The seminar is sponsored by the Tampa Bay Presbytery.

"We feel that this is an awareness needed in the community . . . about AIDS and HIV-positive, because it is in our community and everybody's community," said Ruth Scott, a nurse, First Presbyterian Church elder and moderator of the mission committee at the church, which has encouraged this program presentation.

"There are 50 active AIDS cases in Citrus County at this point, but there may be more," Scott said. "That number will probably be doubled or tripled by next year." Scott cited information from the Citrus County health department.

"This seminar is more to let the lay people know what AIDS is about and how to react with people who have AIDS," she said. "We want to let people know that a person next to you could have AIDS . . . and that we will try to help them understand if it comes into their family or friends. We want them to know there is help available, religious and otherwise."

An essential point of the seminar, she said, is to make people aware of how AIDS is contracted. "You are not going to get it from talking to the patient or hugging them. They need that hugging, the physical contact, because they are not lepers."

Betty Martin, program director for Hospice of Citrus County, said that because Hospice workers have been taught about HIV and AIDS, it is not that difficult to find Hospice personnel willing to work with the afflicted. She also will speak at the seminar on the services that the organization offers to AIDS patients.

In the past year, she said, Hospice has dealt with three to five AIDS patients. An AIDS patient, she said, is "just a Hospice patient who is terminally ill." Every patient in the Hospice program is terminally ill, usually with less than six months to live.

Any Hospice worker who deals with any patient uses gloves, a "universal precaution," with everyone. "You want to protect yourself from any person's blood or body fluids," Martin said.

She said most of the patients that Hospice deals with have contracted the disease through sexual transmission.

"As much as we try to deny that we have AIDS in this county, we do, and it is important to learn as much about it as you can because it can happen to anybody.

"Sexually active teenagers and young adults say, "It would never happen to me, because I would never have sex with someone who has AIDS.' But you can't tell who doesn't have AIDS. The people look like you and me, and they can carry around the virus for 10 years before it shows symptoms.

"Here in Florida, we are No. 1 in the United States for heterosexual transmission of (HIV)." The Citrus County health department confirms the statistic.

"My rule of thumb is that you are at risk in contracting (HIV) if you have ever been sexually active, even just once," said Martin, who teaches AIDS education classes at hospice. "You are at risk because anything could happen, it just takes one indiscretion. No one ever goes out and plans this. It is a smart virus . . . and people still have misconceptions about it."

Richard Moss, president of the Citrus County AIDS Task Force, agrees with Martin.

"This is a virus that is literally a death sentence. Nobody wants to actively go out and literally try to find the virus. Yes, there are many misconceptions. If you think it is not going to happen to you, the chances are you have increased your risk 100 percent by not protecting yourself or taking precautions."

He noted, for example, that the number of senior citizens contracting HIV is on the rise nationwide. "The other example is teenagers. They feel they are exempt. Kids as young as 10 and 12 are getting AIDS because they are not learning how to protect themselves and be cautious.

"Abstinence is the best way of preventing the disease, but we must take the responsibility to learn other means of prevention to basically save our lives."

Moss said he recommends the seminar to "anybody _ teenagers, mothers and fathers, and grandparents _ who are sexually active and not aware of this disease."

"This is one way that we can, together, educate the community," Moss said. "The Citrus County AIDS Task Force is not only to assist those with AIDS and their families, but to educate the community on the disease and prevention of this disease."

The seminar will be from 3 to 5 p.m. at the church. The Rev. Earl J. Smith will lead the six-member panel. Refreshments will be served at after the program.

The public is invited and no reservations are necessary.

For more information, call the church 637-0770. For more information on the task force, call 860-0362.