The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, didn’t really have a name until the mid- to late-1980s. However, subsequent studies have shown that isolated cases first began to appear in Central Africa as early as the first decade of the 20th century. In fact, scientists believe that the virus originated in non-human primates such as chimpanzees.
It first came to the attention of mainstream America in the form of reports of clusters of life-threatening illness among men who lived in the gay communities of San Francisco, New York, and Miami. Because these early cases were largely confined to gay men, the illness became known as “the gay disease.” Although the incidence of HIV-AIDS remains disproportionately high among gay and bisexual men, it also can be spread through heterosexual sex and intravenous drug use.
Studies of Virus Intensified
Medical scientists around the world intensified their studies of this mysterious virus. They eventually concluded that the presence of the virus could so badly compromise a patient’s immune system that it could lead to a condition known as acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. And once AIDS developed, those with the HIV virus became highly vulnerable to a wide array of opportunistic infections. Infections widely seen in AIDS patients included pneumocystis pneumonia, cryptococcal meningitis, esophageal candidiasis, toxoplasmosis, and certain cancers, including most notably Kaposi’s sarcoma.
In the early years, an HIV-AIDS diagnosis was little short of a death sentence. The virus and the conditions to which it led were poorly understood, and the medical community had no real weapons to fight this newly emerging health scourge.
Outlook Much Brighter Today
Thankfully, the outlook for those diagnosed with HIV has brightened significantly over the years. It has gone from being a disease that was almost inevitably fatal to a chronic condition that can be managed, albeit with a dizzying variety of antiretroviral medications. More and more people, particularly those in higher-risk groups, are practicing safe sex. However, some studies show that older Americans, many of whom need ED drugs such as Viagra to function sexually, are less than scrupulous when it comes to safe sex.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the hopeful signs as well as medical advances made in the fight against HIV-AIDS in recent years:
1. More Than a Million Americans Are Living with HIV
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 1.1 million Americans are living with the HIV virus, most of them successfully keeping AIDS at bay with the use of a cocktail of drugs shown to bolster immune response. The CDC estimates that roughly one in seven — about 15 percent — of those living with HIV are unaware that they carry the virus.
2. New HIV Diagnoses Are Down by 18 Percent
The CDC also reports that the number of new HIV diagnoses declined 18 percent between 2008 and 2014. In 2015, CDC data shows that 39,513 Americans were newly diagnosed with HIV. Gay and bisexual men accounted for 82 percent of all new diagnoses among men and 67 percent of all diagnoses. Roughly 24 percent of these new diagnoses were attributed to heterosexual contact, and 6 percent was traced to intravenous drug use.
3. Regular Treatment Slashes Transmission of Virus
Held in Paris in late July 2017, the ninth annual International AIDS Conference on HIV Science offered strong evidence that those with HIV who were taking regular treatment had almost zero chance of transmitting the virus to their sexual partners.
The evidence came from an Australian study of more than 350 male homosexual couples in which one partner is HIV positive. Drawn from Australia, Brazil, and Thailand, the participating couples reported having unprotected sex almost 17,000 times over the course of four years. During this period, all HIV-negative participants were checked frequently for signs of the virus. Lead author Andrew Grulich, a professor of epidemiology at the University of New South Wales, reported, “There was not a single linked HIV infection in these couples. Nobody became infected from their partner.”
4. Injectable Treatment Moves a Step Closer to Reality
Also presented at the Paris conference was promising evidence that a long-acting injectable treatment could soon become available as a long-term maintenance therapy for HIV patients who’ve achieved an undetectable viral load. In the current sense of the word, maintenance therapy usually means that patients whose HIV levels are no longer detectable after long-term therapy involving multiple antiretroviral drugs can then switch to a daily regimen that involves only one or two drugs.
Scientists involved in the LATTE-2 study compared three forms of maintenance therapy: (1) an injection combining the drugs cabotegravir and rilpivirine administered every four weeks, (2) the same drugs injected every eight weeks, and (3) the current maintenance therapy involving a daily oral medication containing cabotegravir and Epzicom, a brand-name combining abacavir and lamivudine. After a 96-week study period, 94 percent of those getting the injectable therapy at eight-week intervals still had no detectable viral load, while 87 percent of those getting the injectable therapy at four-week intervals also had no detectable viral load. Among those taking the currently accepted maintenance therapy, oral medication once a day, 84 percent had no detectable viral load.
5. Vaginal Ring Offers Women a Way to Protect Themselves
In many parts of the world, females have no way to force their male sexual partners to use a condom. A vaginal ring, infused with microbicides and designed to sit on the cervix, has been shown to cut HIV transmissions by 56 percent. In an interview with the BBC, pioneering HIV/AIDS scientist Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the ring does give women protection in “a way that is completely confidential.”
6. Survival Rate for HIV Patients Is Up Sharply
A research paper, published in the August 2017 issue of “The Lancet HIV,” showed that people with HIV are living roughly a decade longer than they did 20 years ago. This sharp increase in HIV survival rates can be attributed to the ever-increasing efficacy of antiretroviral treatment available to HIV patients.
As an example of the improving longevity outlook for those with HIV, the study said medical advances meant that an HIV-positive European who began treatment in 2008 could expect to live until age 70. Although this is below the average life expectancy of 80 in the United Kingdom, it nevertheless represents a significant increase in current survival rates compared with those in the latter half of the 1990s.
Ongoing research will likely uncover new methods of treatment that will further increase the survival rates of those with AIDS and could in time produce a cure. To stay abreast of the latest developments on the consumer health front, including news relevant to sexual health and function, check out our blog.