When Gordon Thomas first learned he was HIV positive, he was told he would live two years.

He lived in Elizabethtown with his family, who like many at the time feared they would catch the infection. So he ate off paper plates and didn’t use the bathroom in the house.

“They were scared,” said Thomas, 48, now of Durham.

But more than 25 years later, much has changed for Thomas and the more than 1.2 million people in the U.S. living with HIV infections. Medications have improved the quality of life and extended life expectancy to almost normal for those who seek treatment. Medications also have helped prevent the spread of disease to partners. The stigma has improved in some cases, Thomas and others said, but it still exists.

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