Tag Archives: AIDS

The Challenges with a Cure for HIV

Today’s post is by “Obi,” a Nigerian doctor conducting his field experience at Planned Parenthood as part of his MPH program. He was a general practitioner in his home country with main interest and expertise in maternal and child health.

Since the discovery of Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as the cause of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in 1983, it continues to pose a huge threat worldwide to the health of millions of people. Data from the World Health Organization (in 2013) revealed that worldwide 35 million people were living with HIV, there were 2.1 million new cases and 1.5 million deaths.

hivThe development of multi-drug combination therapy known as Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) for treatment of HIV/AIDS in 1996 was one of the major successes of modern medicine leading to a dramatic drop in the death rate by 50 to 80% between 1996 and 2006. This period is known as “the decade of HAART.” This changed the view of HIV/AIDS from a fatal and catastrophic disease to what is now a manageable chronic illness.

After this initial success, the next step was to find a cure and/or an effective preventive method. Currently the best way to avoid HIV/AIDS is to take conscious steps to avoid contracting the virus in the first place. This has been the aim of a lot of efforts all around the world teaching safe sexual health practices and healthy lifestyle behaviors. However, changing human behavior is quite difficult.

Due to the rapid and constant mutation of HIV, the human immune system finds it very difficult to defend against it and scientists have found developing an effective vaccine very problematic. Also, HIV is able to create reservoirs in its hosts leading to latency of the disease, which is the main reason HAART can’t eliminate the virus but only reduce its load in the human body to very low levels. For this reason HIV positive patients are unable to stop HAART therapy to avoid dramatic increase in their viral load.

Despite all these issues, promising advances in therapy are being made. Drugs like Prostratin, which are able to reactivate latent HIV and therefore increase the effectiveness of HAART therapy, are being developed. There are also a small group of people who are known to be immune to HIV due to the absence of the cell receptor necessary for HIV to infect cells known CCR5. This knowledge was used in the case of Timothy Ray Brown, the first case of a cured HIV positive patient. Although the therapy used on Timothy is very risky and expensive and therefore can’t be applied on a large scale, it has given researchers ideas on how to modify a patient’s immune system to resist HIV.

Continuing research in this field, including various promising results from numerous clinical trials show that there is hope for an effective cure for HIV. Tests in the lab have shown promise at a cellular level and the aim is to replicate these results at the macro level. This process may take years but with each passing year we get a better understanding of the virus and the disease mechanisms which would bring us closer to developing a cure and possibly a vaccine. Until then, maintaining a healthy lifestyle approach and engaging in healthy sexual behaviors (using condoms) will be the mainstay of HIV prevention.

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3 Things Everyone Can Do to Prevent HIV

December 1st was World AIDS Day so we are reposting this one from a couple of years ago to highlight that not much changes in terms of HIV prevention… 

Although HIV has been a part of our lives for over 25 years, people in this country are still getting infected at about the same rate they have been for several years. Many people still have misinformation about the virus or don’t feel they are at risk. Here are a few things everyone can do:

• Encourage people to get tested and get tested yourself
Planned Parenthood of Southwest & Central Florida offers 3 types of HIV testing: a rapid test (results in 20 minutes), blood draw sent to a local lab (results in 2-3 days) or the free state test (results in about 3 weeks).

• Learn the facts about HIV so you can educate yourself and others
There are still many myths about how HIV is spread, who’s at risk, and how it’s prevented.

• Promote condom use
Many people worry more about becoming pregnant than becoming infected with a STI. If they or their partner are using contraception, they may believe they have taken care of all their reproductive needs. If they have a same sex partner or are past childbearing years, they may figure they have nothing to worry about.

Out of all the STIs, HIV is the most difficult to acquire, and it has a dramatic impact on someone’s life as well as the lives of those who love them. Despite fears of many to the contrary, a positive HIV test isn’t a death sentence; with medical attention, proper medication, and taking control of their health, someone can live a long and healthy life with HIV.

The best medication for HIV, though? Not getting the virus at all. Let’s all do our part to reduce the spread of HIV.

For the most current information on the virus, check out the CDC website on HIV.

For living with HIV, read this CDC brochure on HIVas well as Avert, the international HIV & AIDS charity, to answer common questions about living with HIV.

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At the CDC, Unprotected Sex is Now Called Condomless Sex. Do You Agree With the Change?

There’s some really interesting news coming out of the Centers for Disease Control today. (Count that in the sentences I never thought I’d write.) What we know as unprotected sex – aka, sex without a condom – will now be referred to as condomless sex in their many reports and studiecondoms-colored-702455s that are both for the general public as well as for those in the public health field (like your writers at the Feronia Project.)

Why the change? Many advocates of this term say that ‘unprotected sex’ no longer reflects the many ways that people have sex: let’s take long-term couples for an example. Is a monogamous couple, who have both been tested for STIs, including HIV, really participating in ‘unprotected’ sex when having sex without a condom? (If you’re in a trustworthy relationship, I’d say no.)

Another reason? HIV prevention strategies are slowly changing. There are some promising new treatments via pill that are helping to prevent HIV that may – I must stress, may – prevent some transmission of HIV. (Do you still have HIV when you are receiving treatment that makes it almost undetectable in your blood? That is a question for someone with much more education in public health for decide.) The language change may be spurred on by these new developments, keeping up-to-date with new frontiers in HIV treatment.

So, what do you think? Is this a good change? Will it promote condomless sex or does it keep our public health terminology up-to-date? Inquiring minds want to know.

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Fun Friday: Out of the Closet Presents…

Happy Friday, kittens! Have a great (and safe) weekend.

So, confession: I love me some Thrift Shop by Macklemore. I can’t help it. And when I saw this hilarious (yet awesome and for a good cause) video that Fosgood’s daughter brought to her attention, I had to post it. Enjoy!

Great job, Out of the Closet!

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HIV-Positive? Tips to Help You Talk to Your Partner About Your Status

AIDS Red RibbonA study has found that a “significant number” of teens who were born with HIV are not disclosing their status to their partners. For some, it was because they did not know their status, but others knew and did not tell their partners. This study focused only on teens who were infected before birth, so it does not contain information on teens who became infected through sexual activity. Thankfully, many of the teens who did know their status practiced safer sex by using a condom, but not all of them did.

Not telling your partner not only puts them at risk, but you as well; most states have criminal statutes making it a criminal offense to not disclose HIV status to partners. In Florida, “It is unlawful for any person, knowing him/herself to be HIV positive and knowing the risk of transmission through sexual intercourse, to have intercourse without informing his/her partner of his/her HIV status and receiving consent.”(You can find the full list of state laws here.) This makes it even more important to have the HIV talk with your partner.

If you have HIV and your partner does not, you should know that while there is always a risk of passing on the infection but you can take action to reduce the risk. Aids.gov nails it:

“If you are the HIV-positive partner in a mixed-status relationship, you can lower the risk of transmitting HIV to your partner if you are on anti-retroviral therapy. Taking all your medications, on time, will help to lower the viral load in your body fluids and decrease the chance that you will transmit HIV to your partner. But remember, even if you have a low viral load, you can still transmit HIV to your sex partner. So it is important to always use a condom and practice safer sex. And, if you inject drugs, never share syringes, water, or drug preparation equipment with others since HIV-infected blood can be transmitted through them.
If you are the HIV-negative partner in a mixed-status relationship, talk with your partner about condoms and safer sex practices. If you are in an ongoing relationship with your partner, support him/her in taking all of his/her HIV medications at the right times. This “medication adherence” will lower his/her viral load and reduce the risk that HIV can be transmitted. You may also want to stay up-to-date on developments about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Though researchers are not recommending PrEP be immediately used to prevent HIV infection, recent research findings suggest this may someday be another prevention method to be used with – not instead of – condoms, safer sex practices and other HIV prevention methods.”

The article I linked to above notes that most HIV-related sex education focuses on avoiding infection rather than living with the infection, which is an excellent point. Luckily there are organizations out there with good advice on how to talk to partners and family. When you’re ready to have the talk, try HIV.va.gov’s tips for telling your partners and Womenshealth.gov’s advice on telling people you are HIV positive. Make sure you talk to a case manager or counselor first if you are telling a partner and there is a history of violence or abuse in your relationship.

If you’ve contracted HIV, it’s important to talk to your sexual partner(s) about it. It’s not an easy conversation to have but it’s one that will help keep your partner(s) safe and alert to their status.

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Good News in HIV Research

From the article: “The existence of people who do not become ill even though they are infected with HIV – the so-called “HIV controllers” – is already known. The excitement felt by scientists over the Visconti cohort [the name of the group of patients] is because it appears that medical intervention has brought about similar results.”

This news is further evidence for the importance of regular testing, because early detection is proving necessary for preventing complications associated with the virus. Hopefully with HIV testing going over the counter, early detection will become even more common.

  • In even more good news: Research shows that the cost of HIV treatment in Africa is far less than expected. The Clinton Health Access Initiative did research on the cost of treatment, hoping to find ways to make it cheaper, and found that “the total cost of treatment in health facilities – including drugs, lab tests, health workers’ salaries and other overheads – comes to an average of $200 a patient a year across Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia – four of the AIDS-hit African nations studied. That rises to $682 in South Africa, which has higher salaries and lab costs. Until now the generally accepted total cost of treating a patient for a year was an average of $880 – based on a study by the U.S. president’s emergency plan for AIDS relief (Pepfar) released at the last International Aids Conference two years ago in Vienna.”

That means that much money is still needed for international treatment, but it’s far less of a burden than expected. It’s hoped that the decrease in expected cost will inspire more donations, since any money given will go further and help more people.

Don’t forget, you can get cheap and confidential HIV testing at your local Planned Parenthood.

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Introducing in a Health Center Near You*: One Condoms!

At Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida*, you can now find One brand condoms – for free (as all of our condoms are). These little love gloves are packaged in the cutest wrappers that make you want to grab a handful and share them with your lover(s) and friends! Whether you like cute animals, sports, music or nature, there’s One condom that’s perfect for you.

One condoms offer the protection you need to prevent unwanted sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. The company website says that a portion of every One condom purchase supports the prevention of HIV/AIDS in Africa. That should appeal to the philanthropist in you! They’re also great conversation starters. We’ve posted here before about how to negotiate condom use, but for some of us, just bringing up or bringing out the condom at sex time can make us feel embarrassed or like we’re accusing our partner of not being truthful. Remember, your body is your temple. Where it goes and/or who goes in it is completely up to you. And since your temple is made of flesh and glands, you might as well keep it clean, keep it safe, and enjoy a healthy sex life.

One condoms provide a buffer zone for condom negotiations. You might say, “Hey, pick One!” You and your partner can sift through the clever designs until you find the One best suited for your soiree.

So come by any of our 7 health centers and get yourself a handful of these free love gloves!

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Zoonosis: The Origin of HIV

Image of chimp with SIVLike I’ve said before, when you’re a sex educator, there are some questions that you come to expect. There’s not a single classroom of middle schoolers that hasn’t asked me about the origin of HIV.

Zoonosis is when a virus passes between species, and the strongest, most widely-believed theory is that SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus) in monkeys became HIV in humans, probably through monkey-to-hunter transmission. Another, more recent example of zoonosis is Avian Influenza, better known as the bird flu. Remember the H1N1 vaccination public health officials were urging us to get? Animals and humans carry around lots of viruses and bacteria that do them no harm, but when transferred to another species, can have a serious impact – think tapeworms, plague, Lyme disease, rabies, etc.

I strongly encourage you to go to one of my favorite websites for HIV information, Avert.org. Avert does a really great job of discussing all of the HIV origin theories as well as a providing a history and timeline of HIV discoveries.

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Happy World AIDS Day!

Red AIDS RibbonYes, you read that correctly. Happy World AIDS Day, much like you might wish someone “Happy Birthday,” “Happy Anniversary,” etc., I wish you a Happy World AIDS Day.

To some this may sound crazy, but please allow me to explain.

Being HIV+ for the last 25 years has led me to a certain perspective on life. I do not view the world and life in general as most 48-year-old women do. My experiences are different because of HIV – not necessarily better or worse, just different. As I watch my non-HIV+ contemporaries navigate the world, there are vast differences. I see my friend’s posts on Facebook referring to children, grandchildren and retirement and I am always curious. I wonder what that would be like but they are NOT my experiences. In my world, a lot of energy goes to medications, co-pays, education and support; my focus for years was just staying alive and mourning those unable to succeed at this. Now that I have more confidence in living to enjoy wrinkles and gray hair (yikes), I focus a great deal of energy on HIV/AIDS education, helping folks LIVE with a positive diagnosis and doing everything in my power to erase the stigma attached to this disease.

Believe it or not, this focus has provided a full and rich life. Educating, speaking and mentoring others with HIV/AIDS is so rewarding that I can’t imagine my life any other way. I often wonder what it would be like to post about children and grandchildren but I truly can’t even imagine it. Instead, I reflect on what I DO have in my life and all of the joy, all of the wonderful folks and of course the experiences brought to my life because of HIV/AIDS and I have to scream from the rooftops: Happy World AIDS Day! I am grateful for this virus and the opportunity it gives me to help others. On World AIDS Day, I take time to regroup and recommit to prevention and helping others live with this virus.  I recommit to fighting the stigma and reminding the public that no one is untouched by HIV/AIDS.

My favorite holiday is not Christmas, my birthday or even Valentine’s Day. My favorite holiday is World AIDS Day, which I celebrate as a reminder that I have made it another year, a remembrance of those who have passed, and in hope that we are one step closer to a cure. Happy World AIDS Day to you!

Valerie Wojciechowicz is a certified fitness instructor and an expert speaker about living with HIV, particularly the importance of exercise in managing the disease. She has contributed to POZ Magazine and featured in HIV Positive! Magazine. A 2009 winner of the Junior League’s Women in Strength Award, she can be found at 4HIVhelp.com.

To recognize World AIDS Day, Planned Parenthood of Southwest & Central Florida is offering reduced-cost rapid HIV tests – $20 with results in 20 minutes – at its health centers today and tomorrow (days and hours vary). For more information, or to find the health center nearest you, go to MyPlannedParenthood.org or call 1-800-230-PLAN.

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3 Things Everyone Can Do to Prevent HIV

Although HIV has been a part of our lives for over 25 years, people in this country are still getting infected at about the same rate they have been for several years.  Many people still have misinformation about the virus or don’t feel they are at risk. Here are a few things everyone can do:

•    Encourage people to get tested and get tested yourself
Planned Parenthood of Southwest & Central Florida offers 3 types of HIV testing:  a rapid test (results in 20 minutes), blood draw sent to a local lab (results in 2-3 days) or the free state test (results in about 3 weeks).

•    Learn the facts about HIV so you can educate yourself and others
There are still many myths about how HIV is spread, who’s at risk, and how it’s prevented.

•    Promote condom use
Many people worry more about becoming pregnant than becoming infected with a STI. If they or their partner are using contraception, they may believe they have taken care of all their reproductive needs. If they have a same sex partner or are past childbearing years, they may figure they have nothing to worry about.

Out of all the STIs, HIV is the most difficult to catch, and it has a dramatic impact on someone’s life as well as the lives of those who love them. Despite fears of many to the contrary, a positive HIV test isn’t a death sentence; with medical attention, proper medication, and taking control of their health, someone can live a long and healthy life with HIV.

The best medication for HIV, though? Not getting the virus at all. Let’s all do our part to reduce the spread of HIV.

For the most current information on the virus, check out the CDC website on HIV.

For living with HIV, read this CDC brochure on HIV; visit MyHIVLife for tips on living a life with HIV; as well as Avert, the international HIV & AIDS charity, to answer common questions about living with HIV.

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