The 9 Things Everyone Should Know About HIV

Educating yourself about HIV is, without a doubt, the most important way to stay healthy if you are HIV-positive or just trying to avoid infection. While modern therapies are far simpler than they've ever been — as easy as one pill per day — preventing or treating the disease takes more than just pills. It 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

Understanding the signs and symptoms of HIV allows us to proactively treat (and even avoid) certain infections well before they occur. It's important to note, however, that there are often no symptoms at the onset of HIV infection, and that when symptoms finally do appear, it's often after the virus has caused irreparable damage to a person’s immune system.

Fear and misconceptions about HIV can often prevent people from seeking the treatment and care they need, with some misinterpreting the term "asymptomatic" as meaning "without infection." Others, meanwhile, ignore the early symptoms until they eventually subside, failing to realize that the abatement of short-term symptoms is neither an indication of improvement nor the "all clear" sign that an infection has been averted.


Treatment on Diagnosis Increase 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 on a diagnosis not only increases the likelihood of a normal life span, but it also reduces the risk of HIV- and non-HIV-related illness by more than 50 percent.

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. The formula couldn't be simpler. Still, as many as 20-25 percent of the estimated 1.2 million Americans living with HIV remain undiagnosed.

In response, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued recommendations that all persons between the ages of 15 and 65 be screened for HIV as part of a routine doctor visit. The recommendations were made in line with evidence showing that early initiation of antiretroviral therapy will result in fewer HIV- and non-HIV-associated illnesses, as well as reduce the infectivity of a person with 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 percent 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 (or TasP) is an evidence-based approach by which HIV-infected persons with an undetectable viral load are far less likely to transmit the virus to an uninfected (or untreated) partner.

Current research has shown that achieving and maintaining an undetectable viral load altogether eliminates the risk of transmitting HIV to an uninfected

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 whereby the daily use of antiretroviral medication is known to significantly reduce a person's risk of acquiring HIV by anywhere 75 to 92 percent.

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 the 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 antiretroviral therapy (ART), as well as other preventative interventions, serodiscordant couples have far greater opportunities to conceive than ever before — allowing for pregnancy while minimizing the risk of transmission to both the child and uninfected partner.


Condoms Are as Important as Ever

Despite this being an age where HIV drugs are known to reduce the risk of transmission, both for uninfected people and those living with the disease, one fact remains irrefutable: short of abstinence, condoms remain the single most effective means of preventing HIV today.

While study models vary, most research indicates that condoms can reduce the risk of HIV anywhere from 80 percent to 93 percent. By comparison, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can reduce transmission risk by between 62 percent and 75 percent, while treatment as prevention (TasP) — may altogether erase the risk but only if the infected partner is undetectable.

And, that could be a challenge given that only 59.8 percent of people with HIV are virally suppressed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Financial Assistance Is Available

While access to treatment has increased for people living with HIV since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014, the cost of antiretroviral therapy remains a challenge — even a barrier — for many. According to the non-profit Fair Pricing Coalition (FPC), some insurers have tried to skirt the law by making HIV drugs either unavailable or more expensive than other chronic medications prescribed as essential by the ACA.

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

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