In 2019, 36,801 individuals were diagnosed with HIV in the United States according to the, CDC. Several misconceptions surround HIV/AIDS even after decades of research and awareness of this disease.
These misconceptions are dangerous. They lead to high-risk behaviors resulting in acquiring HIV and lead to widespread stigma and fear of people who are diagnosed with the disease. ,Dr. Aneesa Afroze, infectious disease consulting physician at MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center, breaks down what you need to know about HIV and AIDS and how you can help break the stigma and discrimination around the infection.
The difference between HIV and AIDS
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If people diagnosed with HIV are not on antiretroviral medications that can control the replication of this virus, they can get AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).
People who get AIDS, sometimes referred to as late stage of HIV or advanced HIV disease, are more susceptible to getting very sick with opportunistic infections as their immune system is severely damaged and unable to fight infections.
Prevention of HIV
Unfortunately, there is still no cure or vaccine for HIV. While the current antiretroviral medications are highly effective in controlling the disease and its spread prevention is always easier, cheaper and a healthier option. To protect yourself against HIV or from transferring HIV:
- Practice safe sex and wear a condom
- Follow your prescribed medications
- Take post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) if you are exposed or have sex with someone who has HIV or high risk of having HIV (unknown HIV status)
- Talk to your doctor about PrEP
PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, can be taken by HIV negative people. It is a medicine that can reduce your chances of contracting HIV if you are exposed. It is highly effective when taken as prescribed.
PrEP is a daily pill that reduced the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%. PrEP does not protect against other STDs and should be used with condoms and other safe sex practices.
Talk with your primary health care provider about PrEP and how often you should be tested for HIV.
Advancements of medical testing and treatments
From the first FDA-approved pill, zidovudine, to now having multiple testing and medication options, these advancements and clinical understanding of the disease has allowed people to live longer, healthier lives.
“Thirty years ago, no one could predict the future of HIV testing and treatment,” said Dr. Afroze.
The first HIV antibody test was developed in 1985. Over the course of the last few decades, HIV screenings tests can detect the infection in approximately 2 weeks post exposure with a reduced number of false positive results.
The CDC recommends everyone should be tested at least once in their lifetime. High risk individuals should be tested every 6 to 12 months. If you’ve had a known exposure to HIV or high risk of exposure, it is recommended to get tested 2 to 4 weeks, 3 months and 6 months after exposure.
Today, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) now consists of several classes of medications to control HIV virus. The first combination pill was approved by FDA in 2006, since then several combination pills have entered the market. Drug combinations in one pill consisting of two or three medications are the most popular and widely used for HIV. This key advancement has made following treatment easier for people.
“For individuals with HIV, adherence to prescribed medication is the key to undetectable viral load and healthy life,” said Dr. Afroze.
The United Nations reports over 50% of men and women discriminate against people living with HIV. With continued misinformation and misunderstanding about the virus, awareness of HIV and support to people living with HIV remains an important public health issue.
Aneesa Afroze, MD, MPH, FACP, AAHIVS, CTH, is an Infectious Disease consulting physician at MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center since 2008. She has held various leadership positions and has been a member of several committee’s in past years including: Director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program, President of MercyOne Des Moines Medical Staff and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at Des Moines University. She is board certified in infectious diseases, certified in Travel Health and a certified HIV specialist by American Academy of HIV Specialists.