Tell friends about AIDS, county teens are urged Seminar encourages student action


Raging hormones met intellectual confrontation yesterday in Timonium.

The topic was AIDS, and nearly 100 student leaders from Baltimore County's 24 high schools were called upon to return to their classes as peer educators, credible sources of information speaking a language their friends can understood.

The daylong seminar at a Holiday Inn was aimed a promoting students as positive role and dispelling the notion that most adolescents are engaging in high-risk behavior.

"The pressures on these young adults to grow up fast -- with the responsibilities and consequences -- are tremendous," said Dr. Randy Berger, director of the county Health Department's Division of AIDS Services.

"What we hope to do is get these students to return to their high schools and develop workshops and publish newsletters about AIDS and the risks involved," she said.

"In medicine," Dr. Berger added, "people want absolutes. But these young people are attempting to deal with their developing sexual awareness while wrestling with the potential of contracting a fatal, sexually transmitted disease."

The new approach to high school students -- 50 percent of whom are sexually active -- comes at a time when HIV and AIDS-related deaths are rising nationally for young Americans. The rate of adolescent AIDS cases has increased markedly.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that AIDS is the leading cause of death for men 25 to 44 years old in U.S. cities, and is a growing killer of women in the same age group. Because it often takes up to 10 years for people with an HIV infection to develop AIDS, doctors say it's likely that many people who develop AIDS in their 20s were infected in their teens.

Dr. Berger said there are 464 known AIDS cases in Baltimore County, and 17 percent of those are in the 20-to-29 age group. Overall, she said, 63 percent of AIDS- infected patients are homosexual and 21 percent are intravenous drug users.

The statistics impressed the students.

"We will go back and attempt to open a dialogue, get other kids more aware of the dangers," said Michell Freshour, 17, a senior at Lansdowne High School.

"We have all this stuff going on in our lives and we have to think, stop and think, about what having sex means," she said.

Jen Owens, 13, of Sparrows Point High School, said she learned to be more be more tolerant of AIDS victims and to realize that anyone can contract the disease.

"It's scary," she said. "Our guest speaker . . . impressed on all of us to be careful."

That guest speaker, a dark-haired, 29-year-old woman known as Laurie, brought AIDS into human focus as she described how she contracted the disease.

"I was running away from a bad marriage, living in Norfolk, Va., when I struck up a relationship with a man while working as a waitress," said Laurie, a native of Southern Maryland. "We had unsafe sex, and he told me afterward that he was probably HIV-positive."

Laurie now speaks to high school groups and counsels National Basketball Association players and their wives and girlfriends. She said that she went through the gamut of emotions -- including denial and anger.

"I said this couldn't be happening to me. I wrote in red ink in my diary 'I can't believe I have AIDS.' I was Everywoman. This kind of stuff was not supposed to be happening to me."

"I equated AIDS with an emaciated man lying in a bed with purple sores, but I dress and look like a normal person," she said. "I have learned, with lots of work, to take my medication and talk about me and my disease.

"I hope I can make a difference. I hope these beautiful young people -- with all the built-in problems of growing up -- will go back to their friends and talk about me."

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