HIV Diagnoses Climbing Among NWA Women


Northwest Arkansas has the second highest population of those living with HIV/AIDS in the state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

But doctors said those contracting the disease may not be the group you expect.

The woman we spoke with for this story did not want to be identified because the stigma around HIV.

“I was almost suicidal when I found out,” said the Northwest Arkansas woman we spoke with living with HIV.

Marriage vows didn’t keep her protected.

“It crushed me,” said the woman.”You’re married, and you’re not safe.” 

She said she found out she was HIV positive 11 years ago while donating blood.

The thought of having the disease never seemed like a possibility, especially at her age.

“I just fell apart. I didn’t know how to take it,” said the woman.

Once she got the diagnosis, she said she discovered her husband had been cheating on her.

“I think everybody needs to be checked, and I think they also need to use protection even if you’re married,” said the woman.

What happened to this woman isn’t uncommon, according to infectious disease specialist Dr. Stephen Hennigan.

“There’s a whole group of people who are undiagnosed and a good many of those folks are people who are older,” said Hennigan.

Hennigan said in the last few months at his Fayetteville clinic, six women over 50 have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

Some are married, and some recently divorced or widowed.

And that isn’t a fluke.

According to the CDC, people over 50 account for almost as many diagnoses as those in the 25-29 year old age range.

The CDC said people over 50 have the same risks as any other age group, but aren’t as educated which could cost them their life.

“You’re never too old to get it,” said the woman.

The woman added, she wouldn’t have thought to get tested so she credits getting her blood drawn for keeping her alive.

HIV is no longer considered a death sentence if treated in time, but Hennigan said it’s a different story if you’re diagnosed late in the disease.

“Those people who come in with advanced infection, it’s much harder to bring their immune system back with medicines,” said Hennigan.

He said, typically when you contract HIV you’ll see flu-like symptoms within a month.

“People sometimes will tell you, yeah I had what I thought was the flu then it turns out it was HIV,” said Hennigan.

But if you don’t seek medical attention, Hennigan said the disease goes dormant for about 8-10 years until you become extremely sick again. And that’s when it becomes hard to treat.

“Those who are afraid who are unwilling to get tested often pay such an awful price,” said Hennigan.

“I just want people to be checked. I don’t want anybody to live a life like this,” said the woman.

And that’s why she’s hoping her pain will save lives.

“Protect yourself. Think of your future. You’ve got a whole life a head of you,” said the woman. 

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