Jeremie McClain received his HIV diagnosis nine years ago – while going to get tested with a friend.

“The nurse said, ‘Jeremie, come here,’ ” he remembered. “I was thinking something was wrong with my friend. Turns out, I was positive.”

It took a while for McClain to accept this reality.

“She pricked my finger two more times – each one came out positive. At that point, when it I realized it was real, I passed out. I was hysterical.

“The only thing I knew about HIV at the time was death,” McClain said. “I was scared to go home and tell my mom.”

  The seventh of 10 children, he feared he wouldn’t have the support system he needed.

But his parents were very supportive.

Looking to point the blame, McClain confronted his then-partner.

“I just knew I didn’t have anything, because I was sleeping with one person.”

Turns out, his partner didn’t know he was positive himself. McClain forgave him, and the relationship remained intact for a while longer.

“We’re still friends, but we both needed time to process.”

McClain said it was difficult adapting to his new reality.

“For the first two years, I was depressed,” he said. “I’d slit my wrist.”

HIV destroys T-cells (CD4) and uses them to create copies of itself. The virus continues the process until there are no T-cells left, leaving the body open to infections that a normally healthy immune system would be able to ward off.

A person is diagnosed with AIDS when HIV has destroyed most of the T-cells in the body and an opportunistic infection occurs.

The most common form of HIV transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is through sexual contact and needle or syringe use.

“I never thought I’d catch this disease. I was young, but I wasn’t promiscuous. I wasn’t out there,” McClain said.

According to the Shelby County Health Department, there were 6,481 people living with HIV/AIDS in 2016. The county rate of people living with HIV is 690, which is three times higher than the state rate, and two times higher than the national rate.

Men accounted for 4,484 of those 6,481 Shelby Countians. Forty-two percent of those were men who’d had sex with other men (MSM). Most of those infected were African-Americans – notably young black men.

“It’s the inside of you that really needs the work,” McClain said. “After you find out, you’re going to be hurt, you’re going to be distraught – pretty much destroyed on the inside.”

The first step of treatment is getting on medications. Since HIV still has no cure, persons with the disease must take a pill daily for the remainder of their life.

“I couldn’t look at this as a death sentence; now I’m looking at it as I must take care of myself.

“I remember my case worker, and she was the only one who would get me to take medicine. She took me aside and said, ‘we can do this.’”

McClain’s first round of treatment didn’t go smoothly. “They put me on Atripla. I broke out in hives, hair fell out,” he said.

Atripla is a one-pill-a-day regimen that consists of several drugs that stop HIV replication.

It’s important to have conversations with a doctor about treatment plans. Some medications should be taken with food, or without – others during the day, and others at night. Sometimes, it may be necessary to change regimens in the middle of treatment.

The key to living a healthy life with HIV is finding a regimen and sticking to it.

“I honestly forget I got it sometimes,” McClain said. He’s had an undetectable viral load for years – meaning the presence of HIV in his body is so low he’s not able to transmit it –  as long as he adheres to his regimen.

“I take my medicine every morning. But I got to that point because I had something to be grounded on.”

Now, McClain says he dedicates his time to educating young people about HIV, AIDS and prevention.

“If you’re old enough to tell me about so-and-so’s business, and what they’re doing, then you’re old enough to have that talk,” he said.

Shelby County Schools offers a “family life education” course, which centers around abstinence, family planning and disease prevention. Parents must give permission for their children to participate.

No matter where he goes, you’ll see McClain with a smile and shatterproof faith.

“I’m living positive while positive through God, honestly,” McClain said. “You have to have something to brace yourself on.”

He’s appeared in local HIV campaigns, as well as a commercial for the CDC. Still single, McClain says he’s not afraid to be alone – while living with a potentially deadly virus.

He’s made a simple vow to himself.

“I told myself, I have HIV. HIV is not gon’ have me.”