On HIV/AIDS

This month is AIDS Awareness month, so I figured this would be a great first post.

While I did write a piece on safe sex, I wanted to specifically dive into the history of  HIV/AIDS and the talk about preventative methods surrounding it.

So what is HIV?

HIV is an human immunodeficiency virus that attacks the body’s immune system. Over time the body can’t fight off diseases and a person begins to get sick, with the final stage being AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. HIV can be found in the semen, vaginal, rectal fluids, blood and breast milk of a person with HIV. There is no cure, but there are treatments and preventative methods.

It can be shared when someone has unprotected vaginal or anal sex or shares needles with someone who has HIV, or when an HIV+ person is pregnant or breastfeeds their baby.

The History

The first 5 diagnoses of HIV in the US were reported on June 5th, 1981 and the CDC coined the term AIDS the following year. In 1987, ACT UP or AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power was founded. They are a non profit activist group focused on getting the proper treatment, both medically and socially, for individuals with HIV/AIDS that still exist today. Here’s an awesome video about ACT UP. By 1990, more Americans had died from AIDS than from the Vietnam War. In the following years, starting in 1996, tools were introduced to help reduce the number of AIDS-related deaths, including at-home HIV tests and combination therapy for HIV-positive folks. By 2002, AIDS became the worldwide number one cause of death among 15-59 year olds. That same year, FDA approved the “OraQuick” finger prick test  and the rapid oral test was approved in 2004.

Protection and Prevention

Practicing safe sex and not sharing needles is a great way to prevent the spread of HIV, but some people don’t like condoms and they may consider going on PrEP, especially if they have a partner with HIV. Other reasons could be if you’ve had an STD in the past 6 months, or if you and/or your partner uses injection drugs. People in nonmonogamous relationships who are not always open about communication on everyone’s HIV status may consider taking PrEP. Some people use PrEP for extra protection.

  • PrEP is a prescription medicine to help prevent HIV.
  • If you start PrEP, you need to be tested for HIV every 3 months. While it is very safe, some side effects include upset stomach, weight gain, or headaches. Kidney problems are also another side effect, so your doctor will check your blood before you start PrEP and will check your blood regularly.
  • It’s best to take PrEP every day to be most effective, and it will take time to build up the protection against HIV. People who have anal sex may be protected after taking a pill every day for one week. People who have vaginal sex may be protected after taking a pill every day for 3 weeks.

Important to Remember:

  • PrEP is not just for men. While HIV is most prominent within men who have sex with men of color, anyone can be exposed to HIV. Women can get HIV from men, and can also catch it from women who have caught it from men with HIV. Additionally, of course, women can also get HIV.
  • PrEP is also not just “the easy way out.” While the spread of HIV can be prevented in other ways, with the severity of the disease, if we have preventative methods, it’s a good idea to look into them. Even if you don’t use them, it’s a good idea to be educated on resources available to you.
  • Since PrEP is a medicine to prevent getting HIV from a partner, it’s also important to get tested and talk with partners, whether monogamous or not, about HIV and STDs as a simple form of prevent getting them. This is a useful conversation in the decision making position of starting PrEP.

If you think you have Been Exposed to HIV

There is also PEP. PEP is a post-exposure medication to prevent getting HIV after you think you’ve been exposed to it. PEP treatment must start within 72  hours after exposure, and lasts for 28 days. People taking PrEP do not need to take PEP.

I’m interested how do I start treatment?

Think about your situation and how you can best stay HIV negative. If you’re interested in PrEP, check if your health care provider supports it, as it is only available through prescription. It’s best to talk to people you trust before making the choice to start it because it’s most effective if taken regularly so it is a big decision. Talk to your healthcare provider about your sex and drug use, getting an HIV test and test for other STDs, and checking your kidney health.

Most insurance companies cover at least part of the cost, but the company that makes PrEP, Gilead, provides the drug free for people who are uninsured and with a low enough income. They may help with out-of-pocket-costs for insured people, so check with your healthcare provider to apply.

It’s a lot…

I am very sex positive person. I believe people should understand that sex can be fun and enjoyable if done safely. While dental dams, condoms, and things like finger cots and toys are all great for safe sex, there are other preventative methods that can make sex even more safe and enjoyable that I think are important to know about. I hope this helps you out in learning about them. Below are some additional resources and where this information came from.

amfAR, the The Foundation for AIDS Research

CDC, the Center for Disease Control

AIDS.gov

Gilead Institute

ONE organization, one.org

Montclair State University LGBTQ Center

Montclair State University Health Center

Montclair State University Health Promotion

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