Friday, January 27, 2023

World AIDS Day Reminds Experts of Progress in Fighting HIV/AIDS

According to AIDSvu’s 2020 data, 24,046 people were living with HIV in Virginia, and 628 people were newly diagnosed with the disease. (Adobe Stock)

RICHMOND — On World AIDS Day, Thursday, Dec. 1, experts reminded people to take precautions regarding HIV/AIDS.

According to an annual report from the Virginia Department of Health, cases of HIV/AIDS have been declining over the last five years.

While there isn’t a cure for HIV/AIDS yet, there are treatment options that allow the virus to become undetectable and non-transmittable.

In spite of such developments, there is still a stigma surrounding the disease.

Dr. Mona Gahunia, infectious-disease physician and associate medical director for Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic, said there are certain aspects of this disease people don’t understand.

One particular misconception relates to who this disease affects.

“There’s no one face to this disease,” said Gahunia. “It can affect anyone. I think that’s one key message, everyone aged 13 to 64 should have at least a one-time screening for HIV. And then, if you’re sexually active or have any other risk factors, should continue more routine screening.”

She said some people are afraid of getting an HIV test and what the stigma is. But, now that there are simplified treatments, it can be easier to treat if found earlier.

Gahunia encouraged people to get screenings for HIV/AIDS since it can be a silent disease, meaning the symptoms might not appear until years after the initial infection.

Anyone looking to get an HIV/AIDS screening can contact their local physician about testing options.

Although great strides have been made in treating HIV/AIDS since its peak in the mid-1990s, plenty of work remains to be done.

Gahunia described what comes next in the fight against this disease.

“Hopefully in the future we would have a vaccine to prevent HIV,” said Gahunia. “There’s been research on that for many years, and I think that’s the next golden era of HIV is when we have a vaccine for prevention. Right now, we are preventing through PrEP, which is taking a couple of HIV medications to prevent the transmission.”

Other parts of future work on the disease is a message Gahunia called “U equals U,” meaning undetectable equals untransmittable.

Ultimately, she said she wants to see the disease eradicated, but she said she’s grateful to see people live normal lives with current treatment options.

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