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Utah survivors share stories on World AIDS Day

Posted at 5:31 PM, Dec 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-01 20:54:07-05

SALT LAKE CITY — On World AIDS Day, it's worth noting that about 3,000 Utahns have been diagnosed with the HIV virus in the state.

“I got my latest numbers today and I have 714 T cells,” exclaimed Rusty Davis-Clem, who has lived with AIDS since the mid-80s.

“The doctor said, ‘Hey, look kid, don’t make any plans because you have five years left to live.’ I was 24,” he said.

With the help of clinical trials and therapy, Davis-Clem is lucky. The Cottonwood Heights husband and father of two lost nearly everyone he knew back then to the virus, including his brother and best friend.

“It was a really hard time because here I was taking this medication that was making me better, but I was losing friends like no tomorrow,” he said.

“It isn’t a death sentence," said Utah Department of Health HIV Team Lead Heather Bush. "It’s so important to know and get on medications and be able to talk to your partners.”

A lot has changed in 40 years, as therapies can now make the virus non-detectible and nearly non-transmissible. Bush said testing is easy, but not happening enough.

“One of the things about HIV is that people often don’t have symptoms for many years. If people aren’t tested, they don’t know they have it. They could be passing it to other people and damaging their immune system,” said Bush.

About 130 Utahns are diagnosed every year; however, that number is not believed to be a true indicator of spread in the state.

Advocates urge regular testing for someone with a new sexual partner, and Bush said everyone should be tested at least once in their lifetime.

“If we can get everyone tested and we can get everybody on medication. We can end this epidemic … in a decade,” added Davis-Clem.

CLICK HERE for local AIDS resources.