The 9 Things Everyone Should Know About HIV

Educating yourself about human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the most important way to stay healthy if you are trying to avoid infection or if you are HIV-positive. While modern therapies are far simpler than they've ever been—as easy as one pill per day or a long-acting injectable—preventing or treating the disease also takes insight.


Understanding HIV and AIDS

Here are 9 things you should know about HIV that can help you remain healthy and happy for many years to come, whether you are infected or not.


Early Detection and Early Treatment

A man kissing a woman on the head

Kristen Curette / Stocksy United

There are often no symptoms at the onset of HIV infection, and that when symptoms appear, it's often after the virus has caused irreparable damage to a person’s immune system.

That's why it is important that you get tested if you think you could have been exposed. Early treatment, before you become symptomatic, can substantially improve your outcome.


Treatment on Diagnosis Increases Life Expectancy

On Sept. 30, 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) revised its global HIV treatment guidelines to recommend the immediate initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART) at the time of diagnosis.

According to the landmark Strategic Timing of Antiretroviral Treatment (START) study, treatment at the time of diagnosis increases the likelihood of a normal life span and reduces the risk of HIV-related illness by more than 50%.

This is true irrespective of your age, sexual orientation, location, income, or immune status.


HIV Testing Is for Everyone

Early diagnosis = early treatment = better health = longer life. As many as 20% to 25% of the estimated 1.2 million Americans living with HIV remain undiagnosed.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued recommendations that everyone between the ages of 15 and 65 should be screened for HIV as part of their routine medical care. The recommendations were made in line with evidence showing that early initiation of antiretroviral therapy results in fewer HIV- and non-HIV-associated illnesses and reduces the infectivity of a person who has HIV.


In-Home HIV Tests Work

In July 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted approval to the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test, providing consumers with the first, over-the-counter oral HIV test able to provide confidential results in as little as 20 minutes. The FDA approval was welcomed by many community-based organizations, which have long cited the benefits of in-home testing at a time when 20% of the 1.2 million Americans infected with HIV are fully unaware of their status.


HIV Therapy Can Reduce Your Risk to Zero

Treatment as prevention (TasP) is a prevention strategy in which a person who is HIV positive takes HIV treatment to prevent transmitting the infection to their uninfected partner.

Current research has shown that people who are HIV positive who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load eliminate the risk of transmitting HIV to an uninfected partner.

The PARTNER1 and PARTNER2 studies, which ran from 2010 to 2018, reported not one incidence of transmission among 1,670 gay and heterosexual mixed-status couples who used TasP to prevent HIV.

The results have been heralded as a breakthrough under an international public health campaign called "U=U" (Undetectable = Untransmittable).


PrEP Can Help You Avoid HIV

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an HIV prevention strategy used by people who are at a high risk of exposure to HIV. Treatment is available as a daily pill (Truvada or Descovy) or as an injection (Apretude) administered every two months. Both options can greatly reduce the risk of getting HIV.

The evidence-based approach is considered an important part of an overall HIV prevention strategy, which includes the continued consistent use of condoms and a reduction in the number of sexual partners. PrEP is not intended to be used in isolation.

On May 14, 2014, the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) updated its clinical guidelines, calling for the daily use of PrEP in HIV-negative people considered at substantial risk of infection.


Safe Pregnancy Is Possible

According to the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), nearly half of all HIV-affected couples in the world are serodiscordant, meaning that one partner is HIV-positive while the other is HIV-negative.

In the United States alone, there are over 140,000 serodiscordant heterosexual couples, a great many of whom are of child-bearing age.

With major advances in ART, as well as other preventative interventions, serodiscordant couples have far greater opportunities to conceive than ever before. Pre-pregnancy and prenatal care can minimize the risk of transmission to both the child and uninfected partner.


Condoms Are as Important as Ever

Short of abstinence, condoms remain the single most effective means of preventing HIV.

Research indicates that condoms can reduce the risk of HIV transmission by 80% to 93%. By comparison, PrEP reduces transmission risk by 75% to 92%, and TasP may altogether erase the risk, but only if the infected partner has an undetectable viral load.

Only 59.8% of people with HIV are virally suppressed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Financial Assistance Is Available

The cost of antiretroviral therapy remains a challenge—even a barrier— or many. According to the non-profit Fair Pricing Coalition (FPC), HIV drugs are often either unavailable or more expensive than other chronic medications.

In the effort to ensure affordable access, the FDC has negotiated co-pay and patient assistance programs (PAPs) with most HIV drug manufacturers. Both programs provide assistance to people who meet eligibility criteria based on the annually updated Federal Poverty Level (or FPL).

If you need help with paying for your prescriptions, ask your healthcare provider to refer you to a social worker who can help guide you into the best ways to get prescription drug assistance.

1 Source
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  1. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis.

Additional Reading

By James Myhre & Dennis Sifris, MD
Dennis Sifris, MD, is an HIV specialist and Medical Director of LifeSense Disease Management. James Myhre is an American journalist and HIV educator.