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Providing aid for AIDS victims

Orange County agency, which will honor donors at annual party next week, aims to continue progress in fighting disease.

December 12, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Ariel Vapor stands at the AIDS Services Foundation Orange County in honor of the Season of Sparkle holiday party.
Ariel Vapor stands at the AIDS Services Foundation Orange… (Don Leach, Daily…)

Ariel Vapor was disheartened when he received the news, but not particularly surprised.

He was HIV-positive.

Seated at the UCI Medical Center, with his skin pockmarked by MRSA [methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus] infections, he knew his "promiscuous" lifestyle was to blame.

The Costa Mesa resident, who identifies as gay, recalled thinking, "Thank God it's 2006 and not 1986 or 1996."

Having improved significantly over the past two decades, HIV/AIDS medications are now saving lives. But Vapor nonetheless discourages people from discounting the severity of the disease. Even if they are able to live longer, patients like many of his friends still suffer and die, he said.

In the days leading up to and after his diagnosis, Vapor, whose weakened immunity was being overrun by the virus, didn't have health insurance. It was only with much-needed help from AIDS Services Foundation Orange County that he was able to get the 25 pills that he takes each day.

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After a case manager directed him to the 17th Street Testing Treatment and Care Home, part of the county's Health Care Agency, Vapor also received mental health services.

The foundation comes to the aid of an estimated 1,600 of the 6,876 Orange County residents living with HIV by providing food, transportation, housing, emergency financial assistance, family programs, support groups and education.

Although more than 1.1 million people nationally live with the infection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, almost one in six, or 15.8%, are unaware of their status. In Orange County, this translates to 1,086 people living in the dark.

Laguna Beach, Anaheim and Santa Ana are the worst-affected cities, and in the past five years, 20- to 29-year-olds have demonstrated the largest increase in the average number of new cases. Among minority groups, the disease is cropping up fastest among Hispanics.

"Our strategic plan has changed since the face of HIV/AIDS has changed," said Vapor, who is also a client board member. "[In the past] our vision focused on hospice, end-of-life care and critical health services, but now, it is to identify newly diagnosed people and get them on the prevention track. Medications are turning AIDS diagnoses into something more livable, so ASF is changing with the times as well."

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