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Austin didn’t tell anyone about his diagnosis, not his friends, not even his mother. He was ashamed, he said, because HIV is highly stigmatized in the African-American community. He was afraid people would make assumptions about him.
"You know, you’re being promiscuous. That’s why you get HIV. You was doing drugs," he says. "And for me, that wasn’t the case."
But just the fear of being judged was enough to make Austin ignore his diagnosis. He didn’t even consider treatment because the thought of running into someone he knew at the doctor’s office terrified him. Instead, he researched the virus online and read about people who had gone ten years without treatment and not gotten sick.
"I thought maybe I could be one of the few," he says.
So for three years, the virus replicated itself in Austin’s body unchecked. After college he moved to Los Angeles, and early this year, he started getting sick. His lymph nodes swelled, he got abscesses and he lost 40 pounds.
When Austin finally went to the doctor in February, he learned he had HIV wasting syndrome. He had to start treatment immediately.
For advocates and public health officials trying to end HIV, young men like Adonis Austin represent a growing challenge. Black men who have sex with men now account for nearly a quarter of the nation’s 50,000 new HIV infections annually, a vastly disproportionate share considering their small numbers in the population.
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