World AIDS Day: What we’ve done, and where we’re going
Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day, the 25th anniversary since the first commemoration in 1988. Between 1981 and 2007, more than 25 million people died from AIDS, making it one of the most severe epidemics in history. There is no vaccine and no cure, and more people in the U.S. are infected with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, than ever before, says Dr. Celine R. Gounder, who has worked in HIV research. This is both good news and bad news.
“[It’s] partly because more people are now living with HIV, but it’s also because it continues to spread,” says Gounder, who is also an HIV/primary care clinical provider at the Spencer Cox Center for Health in Manhattan and serves on the HIV ward at New York City’s Roosevelt Hospital. The good news: “We are learning so much that a cure may be possible down the road.”
We know that stopping the spread of HIV is paramount, but it can’t be stressed enough. Transmission happens through infected bodily fluids, most commonly via sex without a condom or by sharing infected intravenous drug equipment; rarely, contaminated blood transfusions have also been cited. Prevention is the first line of defense, and pre-exposure prophylaxis — a daily pill used in addition to condoms — is a new option for high-risk groups.
Improvements in the treatment of those infected include new, less toxic medications taken only once a day. But this method can lead to complacency, which remains the biggest enemy in stemming HIV infection.
“Most people don’t get tested,” says Gounder. “The CDC recommends that everyone should have at least one AIDS test in their life. Many don’t do that because of socioeconomic factors. The Affordable Care Act should help those numbers. This should be a conversation that primary care doctors have with their patients. Getting tested is easy with the rapid oral test. Using a saliva sample, it gives very accurate results in under 20 minutes.”
Rapid oral tests are quick and painless. You can find a free and confidential testing site at http://hivtest.cdc.gov.