HIV is a potentially – deadly immune disorder that leaves people at risk for cancer and even progression into AIDS. The disease leaves the person’s immune system significantly impaired. New treatments like PrEP reduce the chances of high-risk people from developing HIV.
For those that are, for any number of reasons, at high risk for contracting HIV, there are now treatment options that will significantly reduce the likelihood of developing this disease. While much has been done to educate and reduce the risk of developing the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), it is still an issue that many in %country% are dealing with.
Incidence, Symptoms, and Risk Factors for HIV
Regular std screening is highly important and where the first signs of a problem can be detected. There are many places in %country% that one can access free or reduced cost std screenings. There has been much emphasis put on educating people on the risk factors of HIV, but it still affects tens of millions of people worldwide.
The UN Global HIV and AIDS statistics fact sheet for 2018 shows that there are some 36.9 million people living with this disease in 2017. Of these tens of millions suffering from HIV, only 27.1 million suffering was getting treatment for the disease.
If you show any common HIV symptoms, you should consult a medical professional immediately for an HIV test. The sooner it is caught, or those who are at high risk are made aware, the less likely that severe adverse effects will result. What follows are some of the most common symptoms of HIV include:
- Flu-like symptoms are one of the most common and fastest showing effects of the disease
- Night Sweats
- Muscle aches
- Unexplained fatigue
- Swollen lymph nodes
This makes it difficult to diagnose as these symptoms are quite common with many other issues as well. If you are at high risk of developing HIV, it is recommended that you regularly get tested to ensure that it is caught. According to the US government website about the virus, some 1 in 7 people living with HIV in the US is unaware they have it. Not only does this put them at risk for further problems, but it also increases the likelihood that the disease will also be spread to others. When untreated, HIV can turn into full-blown AIDS, cancers, and other immunodeficiency disorders.
There are a variety of factors that will put someone at a higher risk of developing HIV. Where one lives in, works in, sexual partners, behavioural factors, and so on, will all play a role in the likelihood of someone developing this virus. Simply living in an area where there is a high incidence of people with HIV puts one at increased risk of getting the virus themselves. There are communities in %country% where there is a much higher than usual prevalence of HIV and these are the highest risk areas.
Sexual activity is, of course, one of the most common ways that the disease is spread, making women who have sex with men and gay men at a higher risk for HIV than other populations. This issue also seems to disproportionately affect communities of colour as well. Drug users, particularly those who use intravenously, are also at high risk. Sharing needles, outside of unprotected sex, is the most common way that HIV is transmitted to different people.
Though it is less common, HIV can also be transmitted via oral sex. Sometimes, a mother who has HIV may pass the virus onto her child in utero. Sharing food with someone who has HIV can rarely lead to the transmission of the virus through the exchange of oral fluids. Blood transfusions can also rarely lead to the transmission of the virus when the blood donor is unaware they have the virus. Additionally, exposure to bodily fluids from wounds or blood can also lead to the spread of the virus.
The virus, though scary and serious, does not have to be a death sentence. Medical breakthroughs and new treatments are making it easier than ever before for those who are at high risk of developing HIV, or who have already been infected, live a better, healthier, and safer life. One of the most promising treatments is what is called prophylaxis. There are two main types of prophylaxis treatments: HIV PrEP and HIV PEP.
We will be focusing on the first type of treatment for the bulk of this piece, so let’s first touch on what HIV PEP is. The word prophylaxis simply refers to a drug designed to prevent or protect the patient from disease. PEP refers to “post-exposure prophylaxis.” As the name implies, this is a treatment that is given to someone who has been exposed to HIV but has not yet developed the virus. In order for these medications to be effective, they need to be started no more than 72-hours after being exposed to the virus.
HIV PEP is not a treatment for those who are regularly exposed to the virus. It is intended as an emergency measure. The medications are more effective the sooner you begin taking them after being exposed to the virus. Most often, the drugs are taken for a 28 day period of time. This is, in no way, intended to be used as a prevention method. However, it is highly recommended that you seek HIV PEP treatment if you have been exposed to HIV through:
- Sexual assault
- Consensual intercourse
- Sharing of needles
- Exposure via work or other means
You will need to see a medical professional at various times throughout the treatment and once the course of medications is complete, you will be brought in for HIV and possibly other screenings to ensure that the treatment has been successful.
HIV PrEP is a treatment option for people who have not been infected with the virus but are at high risk of developing the virus due to lifestyle and other factors. Basically, this is a preventative treatment that helps to reduce the likelihood of someone developing the virus even when at high risk for it. This is effective for people who have partners that have the virus but do not have it themselves.
Medication treatment, like Truvada, is taken daily as a means of preventing the virus from infecting the body. When taken as prescribed on a daily basis, these treatments are actually incredibly effective at preventing the transmission of the virus. These drugs can reduce the likelihood of getting the virus from sexual intercourse by some 90% and from intravenous drug usage by 70%. Doctors also note that when these drugs are combined with other preventative measures like condoms or clean needles, the risk of developing the infection is reduced even more.
PrEP treatment is ongoing for as long as one is exposed to the virus. It must be taken regularly and as prescribed for it to be effective. It is a daily medication and not akin to a vaccine. These drugs work by keeping enough of the medication in the bloodstream on a daily basis to fight off any exposure one might have to the virus. This is why skipping even one dose can significantly reduce the effectiveness of these drugs. It is imperative that they are taken daily, as prescribed.
These are relatively new drugs. A combination medication called Truvada was approved for use in 2012 by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). At this time, this is the only drug on the market that is approved as an HIV PrEP treatment. Many lawmakers in the US, and around the world, are calling for an increase in availability and education about HIV PrEP treatment options as they have been so effective at preventing the transmission of the infection from HIV-positive people to their partners.
There are few known side effects associated with PrEP drugs, which is definitely not the case with most HIV treatment options. Nausea is one of the only commonly reported side effects and this usually subsides as the body gets used to the medicine. There have been no noted long-term side effects from people who have been taking these drugs for as long as five years.
Studies surrounding the use and effectiveness of these prevention drugs find that lack of awareness and access are still major problems. Many people, particularly low-income individuals, sex workers, are unaware that these options exist and they may lack the resources to access this vital treatment. Lawmakers around the world will need to address to barriers to access via ignorance and lack of ability to afford said medications. There is hope that the widespread availability of these kinds of drugs could significantly reduce the transmission of the virus and reduce the negative impacts it has on society.
As of this writing, availability and awareness of these medications outside of the United States is lacking. These drugs have been found to be so effective, however, that the World Health Organization (WHO) issued new guidelines recommending the use of this treatment as an effective way to manage the world problem with HIV and AIDS.
These drugs have been shown to be incredibly cost-effective, especially when compared with the costs of HIV and AIDS treatment. When someone takes PrEP drugs, they take them for the duration of their exposure to the virus. If they change partners, quit doing drugs, move, etc., and are no longer at risk, they will be able to discontinue their use of the drug. For those who have already developed the virus, lifelong, often expensive, antiretroviral (ARV) drugs are required. It is obvious that prevention makes the most sense in both a fiscal and health sense.
In 2016, the UN General Assembly issued a declaration that they would provide some three million at-risk people with PrEP drugs by 2020. This is great, but it isn’t enough. And unfortunately, by the end of the year in 2016, only 100,000 people had signed up for this program. This is large because access to and awareness of this as a treatment option is incredibly limited outside of the US as noted above. Numerous other programs looking to expand access to and the availability of these drugs are underway in the US and many other places around the world.
It is also important to note that while PrEP drugs are highly effective at preventing people exposed to HIV from developing the virus, it is not effective protection from other sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Regular STD screenings are still highly recommended even for those who are taking these preventative drugs.
Through the years, HIV awareness has spread. Education has done much to inform people of what puts them at risk of developing this virus. However, while education has done much, there are still tens of millions of people who have this virus and countless more who are exposed to the virus on a yearly basis. New forms of treatment like HIV PEP and HIV PrEP drugs have the potential to significantly reduce the transmission and progression of HIV. These drugs help those who have been exposed or to those who may have partners that are HIV-positive from developing the virus themselves. These treatments are incredibly effective when taken as prescribed, saving countless lives and improving the outcomes for countless more.