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Speaker with AIDS urges students to get tested

Janet Kitchen survived breast cancer 13 years ago. Seven years later, she contracted another sinister virus.

“If you see me walking down the street, you would not know what I have,” Kitchen said, as she spoke to a group of about 20 students Tuesday evening in the Marshall Student Center.

Kitchen tested positive for AIDS on Valentine’s Day 2005, a virus she contracted through her husband. She takes three pills every day to suppress the virus, and is living healthy.

“HIV is now who and what I am and it’s what I do,” she said.

Kitchen created Positively U, Inc., a non-profit organization created by HIV-positive, minority citizen activists in Central Florida who are dedicated to providing a broad range of prevention, education, support and outreach services to all people infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, according to the organization’s website.

Positively U, Inc. travels around the Tampa area giving speeches to people young and old to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS, urging people to get tested and spreading the message that “we are in a state of emergency.”

“If you have not been tested, please get tested at least once in your life because, at this point, everyone in this room here has AIDS unless they show me a negative test result,” she said.

Kitchen said HIV, which stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, affects the immune system. AIDS is a disease caused by HIV, and stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

There is no cure for HIV, she said, but the disease can be treated, cared for and suppressed. The people featured in publications such as Poz magazine, which is geared toward those living with HIV/AIDS, prove that the diseases have no particular “look, color or gender,” Kitchen said.

HIV can be contracted in a variety of ways – through sexual contact, breast milk, sharing needles, blood-to-blood contact or by being born with it.

Florida is ranked No. 3 in the U.S. with HIV cases and No. 2 with AIDS cases, Kitchen said, which is followed behind No. 1 New York and then No. 2 California.

Kitchen said these diseases are a human issue and everyone has a human right to know if they are infected or not.

“If you don’t know your status before you go into a relationship, then you don’t know what you are facing,” she said.

Kitchen was invited to USF for the third year in a row, said Alysha Romero, a senior majoring in psychology and criminology. Romero is also vice president of By Your Side, an organization that volunteers with people that have life-limiting illnesses, such as cancer. By Your Side invited Kitchen because the organization is currently supporting AIDS research and awareness efforts in Tampa.

“A lot of people aren’t aware of the situation or they just don’t want to think about it,” Romero said. “People need to realize there are a lot of avenues they can take to be tested.”

The Cuban American Student Association and the American Red Cross also helped organize the lecture, which offered free testing to students after Kitchen spoke. USF Health will also be offering free HIV/AIDS and STD testing Oct. 28.