The human immunodeficiency virus, better known as HIV, is still an ongoing problem around the world, particularly in high-risk communities. This virus leads to AIDS, a disease that is invariably fatal without aggressive treatment. While great strides have been made to eradicate HIV and AIDS, there is still a long way to go before the epidemic ends.
This often surprises people, who dismiss HIV as a “gay disease” or something that was under control decades ago, once more effective treatment techniques were studied and implemented. The fact is, anyone can contract HIV through sexual contact, sharing needles, or being in contact with the blood of an infected person. Pregnant women can also pass HIV along to their newborn babies.
The epidemic continues because of:
- Stigma: The continued stigma of having HIV is a huge problem that prevents people from getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as receiving adequate healthcare.
- Homophobia: Gay men may not seek or receive high-quality healthcare, which includes HIV testing, treatment, and prevention services.
- Discrimination: Healthcare professionals may refuse to treat someone who lives with HIV, and even laypeople may refuse casual contact with those who are diagnosed with HIV and socially isolate them because of their positive status.
- Lack of healthcare: People who aren’t aware they have HIV are unable to get the medicine they need and can transmit HIV to their partners.
- Poverty: Socioeconomic factors play a role in healthcare access, as well as HIV prevention education.
What Is HIV/AIDS?
HIV attacks the body’s immune system and destroys the infection-fighting T cells so the body cannot fight off disease as effectively. HIV progresses to AIDS if not treated, which is the last stage of the HIV infection. While there is no cure for HIV after it has been a prevalent disease for nearly 5 decades, HIV can be effectively controlled with proper medical care. The appropriate medication for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy, or ART. This medication is far advanced from the medicines HIV patients used to take in the 1980s through the mid-90s, when HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. By taking ART as prescribed, the viral load (the amount of HIV in the blood) can drop below detectable levels, meaning they can live healthy lives and effectively have minimal risk of transmitting HIV to their partners through sex. This means they can live nearly as long as those who do not have HIV.
Who Is Affected by HIV in the United States?
Today, more than 1.1 million people live with HIV in the United States alone. The epidemic disproportionately affects specific populations, but particularly men who have sex with men (as well as transgender women who have sex with gay men), as well as sex workers, the economically disadvantaged, people who inject drugs, and people in prisons. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 70% of new HIV diagnoses in the United States are among gay and bisexual men and transgender women.
HIV is also prevalent in racial and ethnic minorities, with gay and bisexual black men, as well as transgender black women, at the highest risk. This group of individuals accounts for about 26% of new HIV diagnoses.
How Do I Know if I’m Infected with HIV?
The only way to know for sure if you are HIV+ is to get tested and know your status. This will help you get the treatment you need if you are positive, and help you make healthy decisions about how to prevent transmitting HIV. Most people with HIV are unaware they are sick, or they write off their early-onset symptoms as a flu virus. These flu-like symptoms may persist for several weeks, and at this time, the person is highly contagious when they come into sexual contact or others come into contact with their blood.
To find a place near you that offers confidential HIV testing, sometimes for free, visit gettested.cdc.gov, or come to Primary Care Associates of Texas and request a discreet STD test to check for HIV. You can reach Primary Care Associates of Texas by dialing 817.725.7880, or book your appointment online.