Sample blood collection tube with HIV test label on HIV
infection screening test form. (Photo Credit:
Shutterstock/Room’s Studio)

For more than 40 years, HIV/AIDS has been an epidemic not only
in America but throughout the world. But now the Centers for
Disease Control (CDC) has made an announcement that many are
hailing as a milestone for those suffering from the disease and
those in fear of contracting the illness from their sex
partners.

It all revolves around the use of antiretroviral therapy (ART),
which suppresses the viral load of an infected individual. Over
the years, the drugs have become more effective and now the CDC
is saying that a person who is on ART and using the medication
as directed cannot pass on the virus if the viral load is
declared undetectable. This is a major breakthrough against the
stigma of HIV and the perception that a diagnosis of HIV is a

death sentence
. In an open letter published last week to
mark National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Dr. Eugene
McCray, director, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention wrote in
part:

“Scientific advances have shown that antiretroviral therapy
(ART) preserves the health of people living with HIV. We also
have strong evidence of the prevention effectiveness of ART.
When ART results in viral suppression, defined as less than 200
copies/ml or undetectable levels, it prevents sexual HIV
transmission. Across three different studies, including
thousands of couples and many thousand acts of sex without a
condom or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PreP), no HIV transmissions
to an HIV-negative partner were observed when the HIV-positive
person was virally suppressed. This means that people who take
ART daily as prescribed and achieve and maintain an
undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of sexually
transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner.”

According to the CDC, anti-retroviral therapy (ART) is the
combination of several antiretroviral medications used to slow
the rate at which HIV makes copies of itself (multiplies) in
the body. But the cost of this treatment can be as much as $22K
per year depending on the dosage given to a patient. This does
cause a barrier for people with low income and no health
insurance. The side effects of the drugs can also wreak havoc
on a person’s body and can include hypersensitivity or allergic
reactions, bleeding, bone loss, heart disease, high blood
sugar and diabetes, lactic acidosis (high lactic acid levels in
your blood) kidney, liver, or pancreas damage.

ART should not be confused with the drug
Truvada
, which is part of what is known as PreP
(Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis). According to the CDC, drugs
like Truvada or PreP are a way for people who do not have HIV
but who are at
substantial risk
of getting it to prevent HIV infection by
taking a pill every day. The cost of Truvada is estimated to be
around $1,300 per month and is not readily available to many
underserved communities of color.

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