25 years ago, the first case of HIV/AIDS was documented in the United States. Today it's almost impossible to imagine a world without it. There are 39.5 million people currently estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, 1.2 million of them are in the US.
In recognition of World Aids Day (December 1, 2006), MTV is dedicating the week leading up to it to informing and engaging young people on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Here is some information on PREVENTION, VACCINES, and TREATMENT, to help you and your friends stay protected and informed.
In the U.S., most people become infected with HIV through unprotected sex, including vaginal, anal and oral sex, and through injection drug use. Certain bodily fluids including blood, pre-ejaculation semen, and vaginal secretions can spread HIV. An HIV infected woman can pass HIV to her baby though pregnancy, labor, or delivery, as well as through breast milk. HIV CANNOT be spread by casual contact such as hugging or shaking hands.
While prevention efforts have decreased HIV infections dramatically in the U.S. since the earlier years of the epidemic, they still remain at about 40,000 new infections each year - that is more than 100 per day! This makes prevention, and learning how to prevent or reduce your risk, as important as ever.
How You Can Reduce Your Risk:
· Choose not to have sex.
· If you do choose to have sex, always use a condom for vaginal and anal sex, and a barrier method, such as a condom or dental dam, for oral sex. Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In addition, correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Click here for: More on Condoms
· Make an agreement with a partner who is HIV-negative to be sexually faithful to each other, and stick to it. Talk to your partner about your sexual histories. Be honest with your partner and yourself - remember, this is about your health.
· If you or your partner is HIV-positive and choose to have sex, talk with your health care provider about how to reduce your risk, including using latex condoms or dental dams.
· Using drugs or drinking alcohol can impair your judgment and lead to risky behavior and unprotected sex. This greatly increases your chances of contracting HIV. Staying sober helps you make better decisions.
· Don't share needles or syringes for any kind of injection drug use.
· If you are HIV-positive and pregnant, see your health care provider to get appropriate treatment. Treatments are available to significantly reduce the risk of passing HIV to your child during pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
· Get Tested! (find a testing center near you). Ask partners to do the same. Click here for: More on Getting Tested
STDs AND HIV
Protecting yourself against other STDs is also important in reducing your risk of getting HIV. According to the CDC, people with STDs may be more likely to contract HIV. STDs, such as herpes, that can cause open sores are especially risky; however, STDs that do not cause open sores also pose a threat. In addition, if someone with HIV is also infected with another STD, that person is more likely than other people who are infected with HIV to transmit the virus through sexual contact.
What Might Be Coming Down The Pike? New Prevention Methods Under Investigation:
Everyday, scientists and researchers make advances in HIV prevention research. However, there is a long and complex road from the laboratory to the pharmacy, clinic, or doctor's office. There are several potential prevention technologies that are being researched - including PrEP and Microbicides - but they are still in the clinical trials phase and are not yet available to the public. Click here for: More on Possible New Prevention Methods
Remember - the condom (when used consistently and correctly) is still the best available, the safest and the most effective way of preventing HIV transmission if you choose to have sex. Also, even if any of the research efforts below do come to fruition, current methods of prevention - particularly the condom - will still be needed.
At this time there is neither a cure for HIV nor a vaccine to prevent someone from becoming infected with HIV. Of course what we do have are treatments that are highly effective at keeping people living with HIV/AIDS healthy longer and in delaying the onset of AIDS. Although there is no vaccine or cure available at present, researchers continue to work towards both. While some researchers have high hopes that a HIV vaccine can be successfully developed, others have reservations about the feasibility of a vaccine to fight all strains of HIV due to the virus' rapid reproduction. Most agree that even a successful vaccine will only be partially effective, and that we are years away from getting there.
One of the challenges facing researchers is getting committed volunteers who are willing to participate in vaccine trials. Researchers need volunteers who are healthy, HIV negative, and between the ages of 18 and 50. But most people either don't know that volunteers are needed or have misconceptions about what it would mean to volunteer. For example, people mistakenly think that they can become infected with HIV during a trial - this is not accurate!
Bottom Line: We are still years away from having a vaccine - even one that is partially effective. Even if a vaccine is discovered in the future, existing prevention methods - especially condoms - will still be critical. So, take a look back at the ways to reduce your risk today! And, if you are interested in learning more about volunteering for a vaccine trial, see the links below.
One of the big successes in our fight against HIV/AIDS is the tremendous advances that have been made in treatment. HIV, while not curable, can be treated. In fact, today, there are more than 25 "antiretrovirals" or ARVs (drugs that fight HIV) available that are used in combinations of three or more. You may have heard this referred to as the "drug cocktail" or "HAART". This is an amazing accomplishment because just a little over a decade ago, people with HIV had few treatment options available to them. And the good news is that many of the treatment regimens available today are much easier to take and require less pills. But remember - these treatments are not a cure and do not work for everyone, and must often be taken indefinitely.
In addition to ARVs that fight HIV directly, there are medications available that can help control some of the symptoms and related conditions of HIV infection.
Most importantly, if you are HIV positive, it is critical that you get connected to a health care provider, especially someone who has experience treating people with HIV, as soon as possible. Medical management and treatment and a healthy lifestyle can help you stay well. The decisions you make about when to start HIV treatment and what treatments to take will need to be made with your doctor.
Now you might have heard about something called "PEP" or "Post-exposure prophylaxis" (not to be confused with PrEP, the method of prevention still under investigation and described above). PEP is something that is being used today in some cases as a way to reduce HIV transmission risk AFTER exposure by using antiretrovirals. PEP is not available everywhere and is only recommended in certain high risk situations - it is NOT a "morning after pill". Most importantly, if you think you have been exposed to HIV (through contact with blood or genital secretions with an HIV positive individual) the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you seek medical attention immediately (within 72 hours).
Bottom Line: HIV is not curable, but there are treatments available to help people living with HIV/AIDS live long and healthy lives. However, treatments are not a cure for HIV/AIDS and do not work for everyone, and must be taken indefinitely. So, take a look back at the ways to reduce your risk today!