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New Book Aims To Take ‘Mask Off’ HIV’s Misconceptions

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COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. (WCCO) – The face of HIV in Minnesota is getting frighteningly younger.

New research shows youth make up about 20 percent of new infections.

A new project in the works aims to re-educate Minnesotans about HIV, especially in communities typically thought of as safe.

The name of the book is “Face Off HIV.”

And the author has worked in HIV prevention for years, saying the misconception that it’s only a gay man’s disease is unfortunately still too prevalent.

Take, for example, personal trainer Annie Elmer, who works out five to six times a week.

Infected with HIV by her then boyfriend 22 years ago, Annie says her workouts help keep her life-saving medicine from destroying her body.

“Two years ago I wanted to end my life,” she said. “Because I couldn’t deal with the side effects.”

But physical side effects are just one part of Annie’s story, there are the emotional scars, too. Elmer’s been single since her diagnosis. Most men are just too afraid.

“They’re afraid for their lives, and they don’t want to get involved with somebody they think is going to die,” Elmer said.

Annie was diagnosed even before Magic Johnson’s HIV status went public in the early 1990s.

A straight woman from the suburbs, she says at the time, most people like her didn’t think they could get it.

“I live in Washington County, in Cottage Grove — a low impact area — I don’t think that people think about it there,” she said.

HIV researcher Keith Pederson hopes to raise awareness.

His soon-to-launch book “Face Off HIV” will feature people from across the state, just like Elmer, living positive and sharing their stories.

“Take the mask off of HIV, and talk literally about the fact that this is a communicable disease that’s preventable,” he said.

The book will feature more than 40 people’s stories, including Elmer’s.

Pederson hopes his project will help Minnesotans talk more openly about HIV in their homes and communities.

For more on the book’s upcoming release, click here.

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