Black History of Health: Magic Johnson

Since his diagnosis, Johnson has dedicated his time to educating others about the risks of contracting HIV as well as how well people can live if they find out early and stick to their medical regimen.

Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson showed his love for basketball at an early age and started playing the game in eighth grade. Still, it wasn’t until he was 15 that he was given the nickname that would stick with him throughout his entire career. Despite his achievements in high school basketball, Johnson attended Michigan State with the intention to focus on communication studies. After two years in college, however, he entered the NBA draft in 1979.

Johnson was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers and would spend his entire career with that team. During this time, he amassed a number of achievements including multiple MVP player awards.

Given his talents, it wasn’t surprising that he was recruited to play for the American Olympic team. Unfortunately, a routine exam revealed that he had contracted HIV. It was at this time in 1991 that Johnson held a press conference to announce his immediate retirement from basketball. 

What Is HIV?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system and affects how well your body can handle infections. If left untreated, the virus can develop into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is often fatal.

Typically, people acquire HIV when they’re exposed to infected blood or other bodily fluids. This can happen through having unprotected sex with someone who has HIV, sharing needles with an infected person, or being transfused with infected blood. It’s also possible for mothers to pass on the virus to their children during childbirth or breastfeeding. 

Technically, anyone can contract HIV but statistics show that African Americans continue to be one of the high-risk groups for getting the illness. 

While the symptoms of an HIV infection can vary depending on the stage of the illness, there are a few common ones. The list includes fever, headache, rash, diarrhea, unexplained weight loss, and a persistent sore throat.

How The Illness Is Diagnosed

Generally, HIV can be diagnosed by testing your blood or saliva. Your doctor can choose from antibody tests, antigen/antibody tests, and nucleic acid tests to confirm if you have the illness. After being diagnosed with HIV, you may also need more tests to determine the stage of the illness that you’re dealing with. These tests can check for CD4 T cell count, viral load, and drug resistance.

Since HIV attacks your immune system, you may also have to take medications to treat opportunistic infections ao your doctor will usually conduct regular tests for them. Some of the infections that can affect people with HIV are pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), tuberculosis, and candidiasis (thrush). 

There has been a lot of progress in terms of HIV education. However, Black people continue to be at a higher risk of contracting the virus than other ethnicities.

It’s always best to prevent infection but if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of HIV, you need to see your doctor immediately. There’s no cure for HIV but with a proper medical regimen, you can live a long, healthy life with the illness. 



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