When it comes to HIV, we know so much more these days – except when it comes to our individual statuses. More than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today, but one in seven of them don’t know it, according to HIV.gov.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infects the immune system, destroying or impairing its function. Much has changed in preventing the spread of HIV since the first cases were reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in1981, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first began describing cases making up what would be the first official reporting of AIDS, the most advanced stage of the virus.
Here are 8 important things for you to understand about HIV in 2018:
1. Accessibility to Education and Resources is Essential
Reducing barriers and stigma is the best way to ensure individuals can make safe and informed decisions about their health. Having information easily available online and at various locations throughout the community, such as HopeHealth in Aiken, is key to reducing risks of exposure, encouraging constructive conversation about sexual behavior, and promoting a more accurate and positive image of HIV and those living with the virus.
2. We Know Exactly How HIV is Transmitted
The virus is spread through bodily fluids (blood, semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk, but NOT saliva) via unprotected sexual behaviors, injection drug use as result of unsafe injection practices or unsafe health care. It is also important to know HIV cannot be transmitted via kissing, hugging, shaking hands or sharing personal objects, food or water.
3. We Know How to Stop the Transmission
As with many health conditions, education is the key to stopping the transmission of HIV. Education dispels rumors and falsehoods that keep people from getting tested, receiving a negative test result and employing skills to reduce one’s risks, or accepting a positive diagnosis, getting treatment and sharing their status with their partners, family and friends.
4. Organizations Offer Free HIV Testing
Cost doesn’t have to be a barrier to knowing your status. Free HIV testing is now available in many communities, including Aiken, where HopeHealth offers free, confidential HIV testing Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. No appointments necessary.
5. Results Can Be Obtained in Minutes
The waiting period for the results of an HIV test is no longer weeks or even days. Individuals can stop in or make an appointment at HopeHealth and receive their test results in as little as 10 minutes. They can also get educational materials and risk-reduction information on the spot.
6. HIV Medications are Highly Effective
Although there is no cure for HIV, medications are available to stop the progression of the virus and help individuals live healthier lives. Taken correctly, as prescribed, medication will greatly reduce the possibility of transmission, as well as prevent HIV from developing into AIDS.
7. PrEP is a Valuable Resource
Pre-exposure prophylaxis – or PrEP – is an HIV treatment that allows those at very high risk for exposure to HIV to lower their chances of getting infected by taking HIV medicines daily. PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent, and more than 70 percent among people who inject drugs. The risk from getting HIV from sex is further lowered when PrEP is coupled with condoms and other prevention methods.
8. HIV Does Not Equal a Death Sentence
HIV treatment has significantly improved the health, quality of life and life expectancy of people living with HIV, allowing individuals to live and thrive. The life expectancy for young people on the latest HIV drugs is near normal: a 20-year-old starting treatment today can be expected to live to 67 years of age, according to a study by researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK.
HopeHealth in Aiken – one of five HopeHealth locations featuring a Disease Treatment & Prevention Center– offers a variety of supportive services for individuals, families and communities affected by HIV and/or hepatitis C, including medical care and treatment, behavioral health counseling, peer support groups; testing and referral services.
For HIV, hepatitis C or STD testing or information, visit HopeHealth Aiken at 150 University Parkway, call 803-643-1977 or connect at hope-health.org.