How many students at NIU are infected with HIV?

The most commonly asked “AIDS question” for people who work in college health is, “How many students on this campus are infected with AIDS?” The answer is not simple.

The answer often raises more questions than it answers. The answer is, “We do not know for sure. But we can make a good, educated guess.” It is impossible to know how many students have AIDS. Not many will actually show symptoms of AIDS even if they are infected with HIV (the virus which causes AIDS). It takes from 2 to 15 years for symptoms to show once the HIV infection has occurred. Simple math tells us that even if a student was infected while in high school they will probably not show AIDS symptoms until well after college. The more important issue is how many are infected with HIV? Infection with HIV is determined by testing the blood for the presence of HIV antibodies. If HIV antibodies are present a person is infected.

For two consecutive years the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in coordination with the American College Health Association (ACHA) have randomly tested blood from college students. The blood samples came from students seen in college health care facilities for routine procedures. This national screening showed an HIV infection rate of 2 per 1000. This rate was the same for both years of the study.

It is important to put this rate into some perspective. The CDC estimated HIV infection rate for all Americans is 4 per 1000. Statistically speaking college students are infected half as often as the general public. This contrasts with the rate of infection for other sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Americans aged 15 to 29 are six times more likely to be infected with STDs than are the general public. Some other data provides a context for the collegiate HIV infection rate:

Cancer deaths (all ages) 1.3 per 1000

Rape and attempted rape (all women) 1.2 per 1000

Heart disease deaths (all ages) 1.4 per 1000

Motor vehicle deaths (15-24 yr. old) 3.7 per 1000

If NIU is an average university, 2/1000 cases of HIV infection implies that there are 44 HIV infected students among the 22,000 students at NIU this semester. Whether you consider 44 a large or a small number, it is too many. HIV infection causes premature death. It is completely preventable. Avoiding contact with blood and blood products and using condoms for every occasion of sexual intercourse prevent the spread of HIV.

More information about HIV and STD can be obtained from the National AIDS Hotline at 1-800-342-2437 or Health Enhancement Services at 753-9755.