LOVER GAVE ME HIV AT 18; STRAIGHT Sex Overtook Gay Sex as the Main Known Cause of New HIV Infections in Wales Last Year. Two Days before World Aids Day ABBIE WIGHTWICk Speaks to One Victim Who Claims That Many People Are Now Ignoring the Health Warnings Because They Think Aids Is Something That Won't Happen to Them
Byline: ABBIE WIGHTWICK
AT THE age of 18, Joanne, like most girls of her age,was about to start college and looking forward to the start of her life.
But then the young media student was given the devastating news that would cast a dark shadow over her entire future.
Worried she had become pregnant by her first ever boyfriend, she went to her local family planning clinic.
But rather than being told she was expecting a baby, she was told she was HIV positive - and had just 10 years to live.
She then suffered the heartbreak of being disowned by her family - who became so paranoid about catching the virus from her that their relationship fell to pieces.
Joanne, now28, says she and her former boyfriend - the first man she had sex with - used condoms but had unprotected sex once.
She now believes her ex secretly knew he had HIV, the Aids-related virus.
When she got flu-like symptoms weeks later she thought she was pregnant and went to the family planning clinic where STD tests were offered.
"I went to the clinic thinking I'd get a clean bill of health," she recalls.
"I didn't ever contemplate I'd be HIV-positive. They said I should come back for a second test. They said I should tell my mum."
When she returned with her mother for results of a second test to confirm the HIV positive diagnosis, her world fell apart.
"I thought: 'I'll never live as long as my mum or get married or have kids'," she remembers.
Later Joanne confronted her ex who denied all knowledge and refused to go to the clinic - insisting he'd visit another doctor instead.
She also warned another of his girlfriends but hashadnocontact, heardfrom or seen them since.
"It was my first proper relationship. I met him on a night out at college," she explains.
"I'd known him a few months but looking back Iwas very pressurised into sleeping with him."
Joanne admits she was naive but believes many young women and men still take the same risks for the same reasons.
"A lot of friends who know my status have still not changed the way they behave," she says.
"They say 'I was stupid last night' and I say 'for God's sake, what more proof do you need?" Although Joanne had sex education at school, including a section on HIV, she said it was limited and she never thought it applied to her.
"For a long time the only things I knew about Aids were Freddie Mercury (the Queen singer who died of an Aids-related illness) and a storyline from EastEnders."
So, although her ex-boyfriend came from Africa, where HIV is widespread, Joannedidn't thinkshewas particularlyat risk as he had told her he was clean.
Now she advises anyone with a new partner to ask them to have an HIV test, however well they think they know them, and to have one themselves.
"How does anyone know what they have?" she asks.
"If you've ever had unprotected sex you could be at risk."
Joanne fears that after the furore of the 1980s HIV/Aids has slipped off the radar with less media and public health promotion coverage. This means many young people never consider it, she fears.
"There's not much information or support out there for youngerwomen either," she says.
"It's important it's publicised so that women of all ages realise they can get it. Anything my story can do to raise awareness would be good.
"A lot of women think they're on the pill, it's OK and they're invincible.
They're not. …