Contributor: Mariah Rossi and Dr.Emran
Dr. Emran talks about HIV and AIDS, a disease he says has a lot of stigma and confusion surrounding it. In this episode, he first explains the history of the virus and then the treatment options for those who test positive for HIV.
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. HIV is the actual infectious virus that spreads from one person to another. AIDS is the terminal stage. HIV is an opportunistic virus which means it takes advantage of a weakened immune system. The destructiveness of AIDS is because it lowers a patient’s CD4 count, which are the special white blood cells that fight off infections. This paves the way for the patient to develop other opportunistic diseases like the flu, Tuberculosis, fungal infections, or other rarer diseases.
HIV is a devastating disease and it is the responsibility of the individual to get tested to protect the community.
Scientists believe that AID originated in 1920 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa. HIV is related to HSV which is a Simian Virus, meaning “monkey virus.” At that time, in the African wilderness, people would hunt and eat monkeys. Sometimes blood would spread from monkey to human and infect people. People would then have relations with one another and continue to spread the virus. As Africa began to industrialize, people would move from one place to another spreading the virus across the continent. It is believed that by 1980, 5 continents already had the virus (Africa, North America, South America, Europe, and Australia).
In 1981, scientists began looking deeper into rare diseases and cancers that were affecting large groups of men in New York and Los Angeles. Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) occurred in healthy people living in LA who also happened to be homosexual while Kaposi Sarcoma showed up in groups of men in California and New York.
Pneumocystis itself is very rare and it is an opportunistic infection, so people who are very immunocompromised are at risk of developing it. Likewise, Kaposi Sarcoma is a very rare cancer.
Then, the third cluster of people was coming into hospitals with these diseases including those injecting drugs. This created a distinguishable pattern and doctors began to do more research and publish papers on the underlying cause of these diseases – which turned out to be HIV.
In the 1990s, a major epidemic developed. Over 307,000 people had AIDS and 10 million people had HIV. It was soon discovered that the disease could also be passed from male to female and from mother to child. HIV used to be a death sentence as there were no medicines that could help the condition. Now, there are treatment plans that can help people with HIV and it is no longer a death sentence. Magic Johnson is a good example of a person living with HIV.
Doctors tend to ask people a lot of questions to determine if a patient’s behavior is a high risk of developing HIV or AIDS. The patient then has the option to be tested for HIV by a blood test. Blood donation centers also test for HIV, as there were cases in the past of people developing HIV from donated blood.
Antiretroviral drugs have made a huge difference in controlling the spread of the disease and even reverse it in some cases. People are now dying from other chronic conditions like old age, heart disease, and smoking instead of HIV. Some antiretroviral drugs are a brand name, so they can be expensive. Drug companies and governments have to work together to make drugs more accessible to those suffering from HIV. With newer medication, HIV has become undetectable meaning no there is a trace of HIV DNA or RNA. Undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U) and patients who have been treating the disease can live normal lives and start families. Although there is no cure, there is a way to manage HIV. That being said, Dr. Emran encourages people to get tested as soon as possible and start treatment as early as possible. There is no vaccine for AIDs which means that communities of people are still vulnerable to the virus
Dr. Emran implores people to get tested. There are free clinics across the country that are anonymous. Early detection is the best treatment and the best way for the individual to stop the spread of the disease.
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