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HIV Today: What You Should Know if You Are Sexually Active

by Chris Tittel .
Friday Nov 27, 2015

"Love is an adventure when one of you is sure... and the other is positive."

The poignant line appears on the screen as the closing shot of "Jeffrey," the comedic stage play-turned-film about the horniest would-be actor in New York City who gives up sex out of fear of contracting HIV.

Enter Steve, the hunky cater waiter who gives Jeffrey good cause to reconsider.

It's love at first sight.

"From the first second I saw you, I've fantasized about you," Jeffrey tells Steve, "letting you doing things to me that I have only committed with 5,000 other men."

"Just so there's no surprises," Steve tells Jeffrey, "I'm HIV-positive."

It was 1995, little more than 10 years into the HIV epidemic, with only so much known about the disease, treatment and prevention.

What ever would Jeffrey do?

In the 20 years since "Jeffrey" first hit the silver screen, researchers have, thankfully, made significant progress in all of these areas.

Some of the progress has come so quickly, especially in recent years, that it makes it a bit of a challenge to keep up with the ins and outs of it all.

Here's a few terms that are being used on the streets these days - some of them familiar, others not so familiar - that could give any of us who are sexually active and who want to remain safe good cause to scratch our heads.

Apart from getting tested and knowing your HIV status, education is the next most important factor in protecting yourself and others.


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

HIV Short for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV destroys specific cells of the immune system known as CD4 cells or T cells. It can be spread through blood, semen and vaginal secretions. HIV does not discriminate: Any human being who is sexually active - men, women, transgender, gay, straight, bisexual, white, black, Latino, Asian, etc. - can contract the virus.

With no cure at this time, anyone diagnosed with HIV will carry the diagnosis for life. The good news is HIV is treatable. HIV-positive individuals require routine blood tests to monitor, among other things, the number of CD4/T cells and number of HIV particles present in the bloodstream (i.e., viral load) at any given time. Prescribed medications taken properly can help ensure high numbers of CD4/T cells and low viral loads.

AIDS Short for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. AIDS is typically diagnosed only if HIV destroys so many CD4/T cells that the body can no longer effectively fight infections and disease. It's important to note that HIV and AIDS are not the same thing and that anyone who's diagnosed with HIV does not necessarily transition to an AIDS diagnosis. Prescribed medications taken properly can help prevent the transition from HIV to AIDS.

ART Short for antiretroviral treatment or antiretroviral therapy. ART is the collective term for the medications that HIV-positive people take to control the virus in their bodies. ART used correctly can also help prevent the spread of the virus.

Viral Load The term used to measure the number of HIV particles present in the bloodstream at any given time. HIV-positive people who are tested regularly - once every three to six months - look for low viral loads with each test. ART taken properly can help bring down and stabilize viral loads.

Undetectable The term used when the number of HIV particles present in the bloodstream is so low that a test cannot detect it. Having an "undetectable" viral load does not mean that a person with HIV no longer has HIV. Anyone who is "undetectable" still has HIV, again just in amounts so low that tests cannot detect it. ART taken properly can help bring down viral loads to "undetectable" levels and keep them there.

PrEP Short for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. PrEP is a pill that HIV-negative people take daily to help prevent contracting HIV. Truvada is the name of the pill. It contains two medicines - tenofovir and emtricitabine - which can prevent HIV from establishing permanent infection in a person's body.

Commitment is critical to effectiveness: Once PrEP is started, the pill must be taken every day and the user must follow up with a health care provider every three months.

Commitment to PrEP can reduce the risk of HIV infection up to 92 percent of the time. It's recommended for anyone who is HIV-negative who is at potentially greater risk of contracting HIV than others, such as anyone in an ongoing relationship with an HIV-positive partner or anyone who has unprotected sex with multiple partners.

PrEP should be used in conjunction with condoms and other HIV prevention strategies. PrEP is covered by most insurance programs. If you do not have insurance, healthcare providers can recommend assistance programs to help pay for PrEP.


For more extensive information on HIV and AIDS, visit cdc.gov

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