HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that causes the immune system to fail, making patients susceptible to life-threatening infections and cancers.
Here are five fast facts patients should know about HIV.
1) The HIV Epidemic Began in the 1980’s
In the 1980s, doctors were baffled by an epidemic of rare infections and cancers appearing in otherwise healthy men. Every year, more and more patients seemed to contract the disease, especially in the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa. For years, scientists struggled to identify the cause of the epidemic until, in 1985, they isolated the virus that came to be called HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).
Even after they identified HIV and noted that blood transfusion recipients, IV drug users, and men who had sex with men (MSM) were at a higher risk than the rest of the population, they struggled to find an effective treatment.
2) HIV Can Lead to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)
HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, causing the cells that comprise the immune system to be less and less effective. When patients’ immune cells (also called CD4 cells) fall below 200, patients meet the criteria for AIDS, which means they have a much higher risk of contracting a life-threatening infection or cancer.
3) HIV Treatment Has Come a Long Way
For a decade after HIV was discovered, there was no effective treatment to stall the HIV virus. The only option doctors had was to give patients antibiotics or antifungal medications once they had an AIDS-related infection.
In 1996, the first antiretroviral drugs were developed. When several antiretroviral medications were taken in combination (also known as a "cocktail"), researchers saw a dramatic slowing of the progression from HIV to AIDS. That year, AIDS-related deaths dropped by a whopping 42%, and have continued to fall since then.
4) AIDS Deaths Have Dropped, But the Number of New HIV infections Hasn’t
The good news is that with the highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) drugs available now, AIDS deaths have continued to decline in the U.S. and around the world.
However, when HIV treatment became available, many people became less afraid of contracting the virus, so condom use has steadily declined over the past two decades, which means other sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis are increasing, and the number of people infected with HIV has remained constant.
5) There are Several Effective HIV Prevention Measures
The good news is that not only are there effective HIV treatments but many HIV infections can be prevented when patients take proper precautions.
Condoms are inexpensive, readily available, and are more than 80% effective in preventing HIV, as well as other sexually transmitted infections, when they’re used properly.
A medication called Truvada is now available to help prevent HIV infections when patients take one tablet a day. As people have become more aware of this option, the number of Truvada users in the US, comprised mainly of men who have sex with men, has risen 880% since 2012! This HIV-prevention measure, known as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is 99% effective in preventing HIV, as long as patients don’t miss any doses.
If patients have a known exposure to HIV, such as unprotected sex with an HIV-positive person or a needle stick with an HIV-infected needle, there’s a combination of medications known as PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) that patients can take every day for 28 days to lower their risk of contracting HIV. It’s important to note that PEP must be started within 72 hours of the exposure, and the earlier it’s started, the more effective it is.
We're Here to Help
At GoHealth Urgent Care, we’re here to help you stay as healthy as possible! We offer HIV testing at all of our centers. We can screen for other sexually transmitted infections as well.