Laney Allbritten suspected bad news was coming.
Her boyfriend was HIV-positive, and the two hadn't always practiced safe sex. She'd been getting tested for the virus at six-month intervals - always turning up clean. But this test, in August 2004, was different.
"They took like an hour to call me in. I thought something might be up," said Allbritten, 24, now a Kansas University senior who sports a mane of purple hair. "The woman who gave me the results (was new on the job). She was almost as upset as I was. I started to cry, and she comforted me."
Allbritten left the Douglas County Health Department, had a brief crying jag in her truck, then started driving - and pondering her future.
"I wondered about the side effects of" medications, she said. "I wondered about family, kids, how my family would react, how my friends would react. The support system I interpret as having, I wondered if it would still be around."
Twenty-five years after doctors first noticed an unusual outbreak among gay men in New York, Allbritten is, demographically, the modern face of HIV in America: A woman who contracted the virus through heterosexual contact, with a decent chance of a long and healthy life.
Nearly two years after the diagnosis, Allbritten is living her future. She has a new, HIV-free boyfriend, support from family and friends, and - thanks to a regimen of pills that have prevented the virus from blooming into full-blown AIDS - a seemingly bright future.
"I have a real busy schedule, and it's tried to slow me down, but I haven't let it," said Allbritten, who hopes to attend UCLA after finishing her psychology and anthropology degrees at KU. "It's a challenge."
HIV is the virus that leads to AIDS, the disease that destroys a human's immune system and leaves them vulnerable to a host of infections.
Though originally seen as a scourge of gay men and drug users, AIDS has taken a toll in red-state Kansas. Between 1982 and 2005, 1,447 Kansans died of the disease.
"It's a risk to the healthy, productive members of our society," said Dr. Howard Rodenberg, director of the Division of Health for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. "It represents a real public health challenge to get the disease and transmission under control."
The good news: Deaths across the state have steadily declined since peaking at 134 in 1994. KDHE statistics indicate that number had dipped to 39 in 2005.
That drop has come even though the virus is prevalent as ever. In 1994, health officials diagnosed 176 new cases of HIV and AIDS across the state; they found the same number in 2004.
The difference: Medications that reduce the presence of the virus in the blood, giving HIV carriers a chance to live relatively normal lives. The disease is no longer an automatic death sentence.
In the 1980s, "the virus was devastating to people who got it," said Geri Summers, director of the Douglas County AIDS Project, which serves up to 80 HIV-positive clients in the community. "A lot of what was done was palliative care - working with people in their homes, making sure they had what they needed to be comfortable" as they prepared to die.
In recent years, Summers said, DCAP has shifted its focus to helping clients get help paying for their medications and providing other support.
"We have clients who are still very healthy, who are working, who have families, who have a social life," Summers said. "That wasn't really true back then."
But progress comes at a price.
Allbritten originally took seven different pills a day; that's down to five now. But her medications cost $1,500 a month, paid for through a mix of state and federal funds. Recent haggling in Congress over how to distribute the federal portion of those funds has frightened her.
"That's my life," she said.
In Kansas, the state spends $6.6 million on AIDS-related services, including staffing a 18-person bureau to do prevention education for sexually transmitted diseases - and to track down former sexual partners of Kansans recently diagnosed with the HIV virus.
"I think we invest a significant chunk of time and effort, at least as good as any state of similar size," Rodenberg said.
There are other costs. The medications can keep a person alive and relatively comfortable, but they do have consequences: diarrhea, nightmares, heart problems and more.
"The drugs are difficult," Summers said. "People think that if you get the virus, it's OK because there's a pill to take. There's still no cure for AIDS, and the pills that people have to take a lot of times have horrible side effects."
Rodenberg suggested the medications have made it harder to persuade people to avoid risky behaviors that lead to the virus.
"I don't think there's the sense of urgency there in at-risk populations - they're not seeing their friends, their lovers die," he said.
Indeed, Allbritten was born after AIDS appeared in America and grew up with lessons about safe sex and avoiding HIV. Even now, she says, it's hard to explain why she didn't take more precautions when she knew her partner had the virus.
"It's very difficult to explain without seeming brainless, honestly," she said, later adding, "I consider it a lapse of judgment in a lot of ways."
Over the years, AIDS has killed more than 500,000 Americans and more than 25 million people worldwide. Today, according to the federal government, more than 1 million Americans have HIV or AIDS.
Even though the antiviral medications have helped slow AIDS' path through America, researchers are still searching for the Holy Grail - a vaccine that would end the disease instead of merely controlling it.
"It is a highly transmittable virus," Rodenberg said. "We know that while new drugs can extend life and relieve suffering, HIV-AIDS does kill people."
Some of that research is being done at the University of Kansas Hospital, where Dr. Bill Narayan says a vaccine is desperately needed in poorer countries that can't easily afford the costs of the drugs taken by Allbritten.
"Because of the expense of the drugs, the nausea associated with the drugs, all of those are very difficult to manage," Narayan said. "The vaccine is the answer. But it takes time."
Narayan has developed an anti-AIDS vaccine that he says tested well in monkeys. He hopes for a federal contract to begin clinical trials to see if it works in humans.
"I am optimistic as hell," he said. "We are working with a vaccine that looks good."
Determining success, he said, could take years.
In the meantime, Allbritten will take her five pills a day. They have reduced her "viral load" to the point where she could safely have a child, she says, though that isn't in her immediate plans.
But she'll have to be persistent in taking her pills and taking care of her health.
"It's something you have to constantly remember," she said of managing the disease. "Adherence to that type of regimen is absolutely critical - you have to put that first and foremost."