CHICAGO August 22, 2012 - If you are over 30 it is likely you remember Ryan White. He died twenty-two years ago from AIDS. Ryan was 13 years old when diagnosed with HIV in 1984, after contracting the virus during a contaminated blood treatment for hemophilia.
In 1984, the fear of catching the human immunodeficiency virus through casual human contact was high. Ryan received news coverage for several weeks when parents of his classmates banded together, trying to prevent Ryan from attending school.
The public is more educated about HIV/AIDS now, and treatment with antiretroviral drugs can suppress the virus, leaving those with HIV much less infectious. Still, there are over 50,000 new cases of HIV every year, and an estimated 20 percent of those who have the virus do not realize they are infected.
To address the continuing HIV/AIDS problem, the U.S. Preventive Services Task force may soon recommend that testing for HIV become part of routine medical exams. It will allow unaware HIV carriers who live outside areas currently targeted for HIV screenings, to get an early start on antiretroviral treatment.
An antiretroviral drug works by slowing the growth of retroviruses.
A retrovirus such as HIV has to use another organism’s cellular equipment to reproduce. The HIV virus attaches to a cell and then unloads its baggage into it. Before replicating the baggage must be reverse-transcribed (morphed) into DNA. Our body has an enzyme, reverse-transcriptase that does the transcribing, creating HIV DNA.
Another of our energetic enzymes, integrase, puts the freeloading HIV DNA into the cell’s original DNA. The cell is now officially infected and when it divides, the HIV DNA is activated to manufacture raw material for new HIV viruses. Newly created viruses leave the host cell to complete the maturation process into active viruses.
Antiretrovirals disrupt this process, retarding the progress of HIV in the body.
Truvada came into the HIV picture recently. It is a vaccine that blocks the workings of a protein HIV requires to infect the body. The drug is for people who do not test positive for HIV and is not a guaranteed protection from the virus. It’s meant to be used in tandem with safe sex practices.
The use of Truvada may slow the spread of HIV in high risk populations; it is hard to imagine that most people at low risk will want to take it. What is most needed to stop the spread of HIV are the following three steps.
1. Those infected need to be linked to care facilities.
2. Those infected need to remain with their care facility.
3. Those infected must stay on their medication.
The steps sound easy enough, but there are obstacles such as drug use, poverty, mental illness, and homelessness. Where these perennial problems exist, continuous HIV care and medication are tough to maintain.
“The biggest challenge the country faces today is diagnosing all its HIV-infected people and helping them take full advantage of the existing treatments, which both stave off disease and make people less infectious.” (The American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science)
Many people have contributed to the progress in HIV treatment, including Ryan White, a spokesman for HIV/AIDS before he died. Maybe in another 20 years HIV will be largely, or entirely, a problem of the past. Sooner would be better, but never soon enough for the thousands who faced the illness without adequate treatments. _____________________________
Read about other well known people with HIV/AIDS and learn more of HIV treatments and prevention at Healthline.com.
An interview with Jon Cohen, author of Shots In The Dark, The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine; http://www.sciencemag.org/content/337/6091/168/suppl/DC1
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