It’s been 30 years since World AIDS Day was started in 1988. It was used as a day to remember those who died of HIV/AIDS or an AIDS related illness, recognize those who were living with HIV, and to come together globally in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
In 2018, on this day the world continues to remember, recognize and come together for a common cause. In many ways, however, the energy has changed outside of the HIV/AIDS community in the United States. The urgency that was present in 1988 and the following decades has fizzled because, thankfully, HIV treatment is now more effective and tolerable. We should use that previous energy to focus our efforts on HIV prevention and the continued health disparities that exist.
Why should I still care?
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) affects the immune system of individuals, making them more susceptible to common and uncommon illnesses. Most people do not have any symptoms for many years after infection with HIV and can spread the virus to others through unprotected sexual contact and injecting and sharing needles while using illegal drugs.
There are 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States. There are still approximately 40,000 new diagnoses of HIV each year in this country and it can affect anyone. In the U.S., African American and Hispanic/Latino gay or bisexual males are disproportionately affected by HIV. Despite representing 12 percent and 18 percent of the population respectively, they accounted for 44 percent and 25 percent of new diagnoses. And, 25 percent of new diagnoses were through heterosexual contact, disproportionately affecting African American women.
How can I prevent HIV?
Knowing your status can help prevent HIV in your community. Getting tested is easy - a mouth swab or small blood draw is all that is required. There are free testing sites at local health departments, health fairs or a doctor can order a test. You can help encourage others to get tested as well!
Preventing the spread of HIV is a community effort. When communities are open and accepting of others it allows those at highest risk of acquiring HIV access to prevention services, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is a pill taken once per day that helps prevent those at highest risk from acquiring HIV. Recently, PrEP was approved for adolescents - allowing those younger than 18 years old who may be at high risk an additional option for HIV prevention too.
What if I am positive?
Knowing your HIV status helps you get linked to the best treatment as soon as possible. With the current drug regimens, it is possible to take just one pill once per day for treatment. And now with current medications it is known that HIV cannot be spread to others if a person’s viral load (the amount of virus in the blood) is undetectable. If a person living with HIV takes his or her medications as prescribed and has an undetectable viral load he or she cannot transmit the virus to anyone.
To learn more about the Family AIDS Clinic and Educational Services Program (FACES) at Nationwide Children's Hospital, click here. Or, find more information at www.cdc.gov.
Megan E. Brundrett, MD, is a physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital in the Section of Primary Care Pediatrics. She is an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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