Magic Johnson of the L.A. Lakers announced he had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in 1991. This was big news at the time and led to much discussion across the U.S. about who could get the virus and how. As media coverage increased, so did knowledge about the spread of HIV through bodily fluids during sex and blood via needles.
Despite the growing awareness, the virus remains a huge concern worldwide and in the U.S. today. About 1.1 million people nationwide live with HIV, and 1 in 7 of them aren’t aware they have it.1 On the positive side, treatments have advanced significantly to better control the virus.
“Fortunately, we have come a long way from the ‘old days’ when HIV was a death sentence and there were no available medications,” says Dr. Todd Ellerin, Teladoc expert in infectious diseases. “A patient in 2019 who is diagnosed with HIV has a good chance of living as long as an HIV-negative patient of the same age and sex,” he explains.
While there is no cure for AIDS, there are ways to fight HIV. Learn more about how prevention, early detection, and treatment are helping to improve the HIV/AIDS survival rates, and what you can do if you think you’re at risk.
Preventing the spread and taking on testing
You can only get HIV from directly contacting the bodily fluids of someone who’s infected with the virus. These include blood, semen, rectal and vaginal fluids, and breast milk.2 For the virus to enter your bloodstream and infect you, it needs to enter through a mucous membrane, open cut/sore, or injection as with IV drugs. Regularly using condoms is an effective way to prevent sexual transmission of the virus.
While you may experience flu-like symptoms after acquiring HIV, the symptoms can be mild or even nonexistent until the virus develops into AIDS. So do not to wait for signs of an infection: Get tested today. There are blood or saliva tests that you can get at a doctor’s office or through a home kit. A physician will need to confirm the diagnosis and run further tests to learn more about your infection and decide the best way to treat it.
Following through on treatment
If you test positive for HIV, the virus will begin to attack your immune system so you’ll have trouble fighting off infections and diseases. It’s important to start treatment right away: The most common medicine is called antiretroviral therapy, or ART, which blocks the virus in various ways. The goal of the regimen is to reduce the viral load—or amount of HIV in a sample of blood—to an undetectable level. While they bring some side effects, they are powerful in their purpose.
“Early diagnosis, rapid linkage to care, and early treatment initiation are the key principles to curbing this pandemic,” says Dr. Ellerin. “Antiviral medications are able to suppress the virus to levels which do not allow transmission from person to person. We call this ‘treatment as prevention’ or ‘U = U,’ which means ‘undetectable virus = untransmissible,’” Dr. Ellerin explains. “We have come a long way from the days when HIV-infected patients had to take handfuls of pills that caused nasty side effects, to present day where many patients are able to take single tablets that contain multiple antivirals with minimal side effects.”
Around the world in 2018, 23.3 million people with HIV were using ART, an increase of 1.6 million since 2017 and up from 8 million in 2010.3 People with HIV who take ART daily as prescribed for an undetectable viral load can live long, healthy lives and even have very little risk of sexually transmitting HIV to their sexual partners.
Ending the epidemic
Aside from the great strides of ART, researchers are still hunting for effective treatments and a cure. In March of this year, researchers announced a case of “long-term remission” from a bone marrow transplant, some even hailing it a cure.4 Also that month, Nature reported that someone with HIV was free of the virus after receiving a stem-cell transplant that replaced their white blood cells with HIV-resistant versions.5 And in July, researchers for the first time eliminated replication-competent HIV-1 DNA from the genomes of living animals, a major step toward the development of a possible cure for human HIV infection.6
Back in February, President Donald Trump announced “Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America,” an initiative to reduce new HIV infections by 90% over 10 years through the following strategies.7
- Diagnosing all individuals with HIV as early as possible after infection.
- Treating HIV rapidly and effectively after diagnosis to achieve sustained viral suppression.
- Protecting individuals at risk for HIV using proven prevention approaches.
- Responding rapidly to detect and respond to growing HIV clusters and prevent new infections.
“While there is still no cure for HIV, the scientific community is committed to finding a cure for this virus that has killed millions of people since the first cases were described in summer of 1981,” Dr. Ellerin says. “We have a lot to be optimistic about…. But we cannot take our foot off the gas.”
As researchers fine-tune treatments and work hard to develop a cure, our U.S. board-certified specialists can help you decide the best treatment path after diagnosis. Through our expert medical opinion service, we’ll review your medical record—including test results—to give you peace of mind that your plan is personalized for solid results.
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