Monday, February 28, 2011

Losing Sight: A Glance Back at AIDS, Thirty Years into the Pandemic

Losing Sight: A Glance Back at AIDS, Thirty Years into the Pandemic

It's 2011! Spring is almost in the air. What's also in the air is the reminder that this year we celebrate thirty years, three decades, of a time of HIV and AIDS. Thirty years! Many things have changed in the way we look at the virus, the disease (or cluster of diseases) it causes, and the epidemic--the pandemic--itself. The truth is that AIDS is not only a medical disease (or problem), but also a socio-economical one, a financial one and, indeed, a cultural one. Many things have changed in terms of AIDS--the face of AIDS, of the disease itself, and how we perceive it--and, yet, many things have stayed the same.

One thing that has revolutionized AIDS, in a way, was the advent of the HAART regimens. Introduced in the mid-nineties by Dr. Ho, these medications have turned patients lives around, having the so-called Lazarus effect on people living with HIV/AIDS, giving patients a new chance to life, to an active, almost with normal life-span as the HIV-negative individuals' kind of life. There are now some twenty-something kinds of life-saving medications available to patients, with more, hopefully, to be made available soon. That's why it is sometimes easy to forget the time of AIDS--life with AIDS--before the advent of HAART. Yet, that time of AIDS should never be forgotten.

It was during that time that opportunistic infections were more deadly, simply because the medications to keep those O.I.s in check were not really available. One of these O.I.s was caused by a virus called cytomegalovirus, or CMV, the number one cause of blindness in people living with AIDS. I'd like to share here an short excerpt about CMV from my book, Journeys Through Darkness. Thanks to today's HAART regimens, the powerful medications that keep a person's immune system strong enough and above the level that can trigger CMV activation, the number of CMV-retinitis cases in AIDS patients has decreased by about ninety percent.

Hope you enjoy the read. As always, thanks for visiting,

Alina Oswald

CMV at a Glance, excerpt from Journeys Through Darkness

Flashing lights, floating spots, speckles of cotton before the eyes disturbing the sight, making it hazy and blurry as if you’re looking through a screen may or may not be early signs of blindness. These symptoms may be the first signs of an eye disease called CMV retinitis.
Retinitis means infection of the retina, the thin layer of light sensitive tissue lining the back of the eyeball. The function of the retina is to convert the optical image we see with our eyes into electrical impulses that are further sent through the optical nerve to the brain. In the case of retinitis, even if the infection is cured, scars may remain on the retina. If left untreated, retinitis can lead to partial or total blindness.
Viral retinitis (caused by a virus) is most frequent in people with weakened immune systems, like HIV/AIDS patients or cancer patients (chemotherapy treatments can weaken immunity, making the patients prone to viral retinitis). There are three viruses that are commonly responsible for viral retinitis:
Herpes simplex virus, which causes cold sores;
* Varicella zoster virus (HZV or Herpes Zoster Virus), which causes chicken pox;
* Cytomegalovirus retinitis, which causes total or partial blindness.
* Cytomegalovirus is a kind of herpes virus that once inside the human body, it stays there for life. The virus is transmitted through bodily fluids like saliva, blood, urine, semen and breast milk, and lives peacefully in the healthy human body, in an inactive, (otherwise known as “dormant”) state, not causing disease. Most people get exposed to CMV, especially with age, without being aware that they have been infected.
When the immune system weakens, CMV can become active. For example, in a person with AIDS, when the T cell count dips below fifty (a healthy individual has approximately one thousand T cells measured per unit of blood), CMV becomes active and can attack different parts of the body, causing serious damage. The virus can cause CMV retinitis in the eye or CMV pneumonia in the lungs and it can also spread to the esophagus, stomach, and bowels.
In AIDS patients, CMV most commonly affects the eye, causing CMV retinitis, an infection affecting the retina, which swallows and inflames. As a result, the signals sent from the eye to the brain become incomplete or inaccurate, leading to blurry vision or blind spots in the vision. 
In some cases, people with CMV retinitis do not have any symptoms of the disease, sometimes even while they’re on the verge of losing their sight. That’s why it is advisable for people with very low T cell counts to go to an eye specialist for regular examinations and for a special test that checks for CMV in the eyes. Early lesions would look like small yellow-white patches with a grainy appearance, often accompanied by bleeding.
There are three standard medications used to treat CMV retinitis: ganciclovir, foscarnet, and cidofovir. CMV medications can be administered as intravenous (ganciclovir alone or in combination with foscarnet), intravitreal (injected into the vitreal fluid of the eye), as intraocular implants (surgically implanted into the eye to gradually release the drug), and also as oral medication. Oral medication is used for maintenance or as prophylaxis, to keep the CMV in check (inactive), thus reducing the risk of more damage to the retina and, therefore, preventing more vision loss.

HAART regimens, introduced in the mid-nineties, help keep the patients' immune systems healthy enough not to be prone to CMV infections. Therefore, with the advent of HAART regimens, the cases of CMV retinitis among people living with AIDS has decreased by almost ninety percent.

Friday, February 18, 2011

On Fruits and Pies: From PICKING FRUITs to BIRTHDAY PIE, interview with NYC's author Arthur Wooten

Have you heard? Arthur Wooten, NYC author of On Picking Fruit and Fruit Cocktail, has a new book out. It's true! Birthday Pie will be available soon, as will author's book events and signings. Just wanted to post a note for Wooten's fans, just like myself. 
I had the opportunity to meet Wooten at the BEA in NYC, in 2007. He handed me a copy of his On Picking Fruit and autographed it for me. He wrote "Pick wisely!" 

I had the chance, a few months later, to talk to the author about his "Fruit" books and their intriguing, funny character, Curtis Jenkins, who's showing us how (not) to discover true love and soul mates. After all, we've all been through these sorts of experiences, thus have even more reasons to fall in love with Curtis. Here's a short article I wrote after this fantastic experience. 

Hope you enjoy the read.

As always, thanks for reading,

Alina Oswald

From high school gymnastics to pre-vet school, from realizing that acting was his call to making a living as an actor in New York City theaters, from discovering shiatsu and becoming a shiatsu massage practitioner to writing, the life experiences of Arthur Wooten have become, at least partly, sources of inspiration for his playwrights and novels. His debut novel, On Picking Fruit and its sequel, Fruit Cocktail, both published by Alyson Books, tell the story of a middle-age gay man, Curtis Jenkins, and his quest to find true and everlasting love.
Curtis Jenkins and his struggle to pick the right fruit (the perfect date) resonate with many of us. After all, we’ve all experienced dates from hell or promising relationships ending with in heartbreak and shock, seemingly out of the blue. And, just like Curtis, we’ve all struggled to realize our dreams—dreams of love, profession and life, in general.
Curtis Jenkins, the protagonist, also opens our eyes to a certain aspect of today’s society, especially today’s dating arena, an aspect dealing with the realization that dating--and finding a soul mate--gets tougher as we grow older. In particular, it’s tougher growing old and trying to find that special someone while being gay.
This sensitive, sometimes difficult to accept topic, is the one Wooten chooses to explore in his two novels. Through his protagonist, the author becomes a new voice in today’s gay fiction. “You hear about the twenty year olds questioning their sexuality. You hear about the thirty year olds who had ten trips in one week,” the author explains. “But what you don’t hear is the middle age man who’s really trying to keep his career going and, in my book, also happens to be HIV positive, [which is] another stigma attached to him. I wanted the middle age [gay] man to be heard.”
Curtis Jenkins’s story is “autobiofictional,” as Wooten calls it. “Look, he’s a writer, he’s gay.” The author is much different from his protagonist, being a writer of all his characters—the delightful Mrs. J[enkins] (Curtis’ mother), Quinn, Curtis' best friend, and even his old and quirky therapist. They are all part of Arthur Wooten in some way, because he, as the author, created them all. Therefore, his characters come out of his soul, his mind and heart.
In On Picking Fruit the protagonist has an unrealistic, fairy-tale like idea of the perfect date, an idea that may actually stay in the way of his finding the ideal relationship. In Fruit Cocktail, Curtis grows up a lot, as a character, thus gaining a more clear sense of himself. He becomes more realistic about his dates, and also about himself. He realizes that, while dating, the question should be if he likes his date, not the other way around… pretty much as it should happen when we go to a job interview. And the fact that there is no resolution in Fruit Cocktail allows the possibility for Curtis Jenkins to continue evolving and entertaining.
The author has always believed in the synchronicity and serendipity of his novels. That’s how he explains the path of his novels being adapted for the screen. “Everything is a thought first,” Wooten comments on this transformation, (adaptation). We find the idea in his books and in Dr. Tunick’s, the quirky therapist, advice to Curtis: “if you want something bad enough you must visualize it first.”

Monday, February 7, 2011

New Orleans Moments: The Woman with Beads

Superbowl is over. Mardi Gras is just around the corner. Mardi Gras! Aka New Orleans, aka Crescent City, aka City of the Dead, aka Katrina... but more on that later.

For now, it's time to get ready for Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday. That means, get those shiny beads ready, to share and/or to wear.

I visited Crescent City twice. First time was a very long time ago. Second time was last month. I found out that the City was in preparation for Mardi Gras. Beads were flying all over the place, day and night, Bourbon and Canal, and any other street for that matter, especially in the (French) Quarter.

It was in the Quarter that I noticed this older woman sitting in the corner of Toulouse Street, beads in her hand, as captured in the picture. I'm still not sure if she wanted to sell the beads or just give them away... that remains a mystery, together with all those other mysteries that add to the fantasy surrounding the fabulous Big Easy.

Thanks for visiting,
Alina Oswald

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Another Year, Another Blizzard: Ferry Fog

Blizzard Jan2010: Ferry Fog
Blizzard Jan2010: Ferry Fog,
originally uploaded by ANO07.
Although I couldn't take too many pictures during the blizzard(s) of this winter, I did capture quite a few moments of the ones of last winter. Here is Frank Sinatra ferry leaving Jersey City, heading for NYC, through thick fog and ice. I just couldn't resist to not take this picture.

Hope you enjoy it.

Alina Oswald