A Colorado dentist, Dr. Stephen Stein, is discovered to have put at least 8,000 people at risk for AIDS, by reusing needles and syringes.
Four U.S. bound Delta Airlines flights originating from Amsterdam serve sandwiches with sewing needles in them, resulting in people becoming newly at-risk for contracting AIDS. It all happened this July, 2012, ironically, the month of this year’s biennial International AIDS Conference. It’s July, 2012, approximately 31 years since AIDS was first diagnosed. Where do we stand?
- Since it was identified in 1981, 30 million people have died from diseases related to AIDS.
- As of the end of 2010, about 34 million people had HIV worldwide. This is an increase of 17%, from 2001.
In the United States (according to the Centers of Disease Control): There are around 1.2 million people with HIV. Among this group, 20% are unaware that they are infected.
Now for the good news:
“The epidemic itself has changed its shape, so to say, very drastically in recent years. Science has progressed very well”, says Dr. Anwer Mujeeb, Biomedical Program Officer of the California HIV/AIDS Research Program (CHRP) at the University of California. Thanks to science and research, he notes, “We’re able to apply new strategies to curb the epidemic through the ‘test and treat’ approach as the biomedical intervention and use antiviral drugs as pre-exposure prophylactics (PrEP).” (more on these approaches below).
In 2010, fewer people were found to be dying of AIDS-related causes: 1.8 million, as compared to a high of 2.2 million in the mid-2000s.
In 2010, there were fewer new HIV infections: 2.7 million, which is a decrease of 15% from 2001 and a decrease of 21% from the peak of HIV in 1997.
How do we get AIDS? What We Now Know:
AIDS is caused by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). The average time between contracting HIV and developing symptoms of AIDS is 10 years in industrialized countries.
Bodily fluids can transmit HIV, including blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. A person can get HIV through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex, blood transfusion, vaginal birth, or breastfeeding.
HIV is not easy to get! Sweat, tears, vomit, feces and urine have not been observed to transmit HIV, although they carry small amounts of HIV. Mosquitoes do not transmit HIV.
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Progress in Prevention: The standard preventative measures have included: using latex condoms during sex, not sharing needles or syringes, and using antiretroviral treatment during pregnancy and delivery. More recent approaches to prevention include:
Microbicides (compounds put in the vagina or rectum that can protect from sexually transmitted infections)
PrEP: pre-exposure prophylaxis (giving antiretroviral drugs to high-risk individuals before exposure, to reduce chances of contracting the virus)
“Truvada”, just approved by the FDA to reduce the risk of sexually acquired HIV infection in high-risk adults. (This is the first drug that has been approved, according to FDA.gov, to “reduce the risk of HIV infection in uninfected individuals who are at high risk of HIV infection and who may engage in sexual activity with HIV-infected partners.”
Possible vaccines for HIV
- Early use of antiretroviral drugs to reduce the risk of HIV transmission among serodiscordant (one person tested positive for HIV and the other did not) couples by 96%. (The groundbreaking 2011 HPTN 052 clinical trial demonstrated this could be possible.)
New Treatment Strategies:
ARVs (antiretroviral drugs) can slow the progression of HIV for years
“Test and treat” Dr. Mujeeb defines “test and treat” as: “the intervention approach where high-risk individuals are tested for their HIV status (in clinics); individuals that are found seropositive (i.e. HIV+) are linked to care and given the treatment. This approach is also called TLC (testing and linkage to care).”
While we can’t control the threat of people such as Dr. Stein and those who put needles in sandwiches, we are coming closer to bringing the threat of AIDS under control, every day. Dr. Mujeeb states, “Recent advances in scientific research allow scientists to use the term of finding “cure” more enthusiastically than ever before”, adding, “But we are yet to get there.”
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Anna Katzman is a Clinical Nurse Specialist in psychiatry, certified in child and adolescent mental health. She is a regular contributor to GalTime. You can visit her blog for additional information.