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The City Journals

What to know about HIV risk factors, prevention and latest treatment

Dec 01, 2019 10:58AM ● By Amy Green

An example of what medicines a patient diagnosed with HIV takes in a day. (Amy Green/City Journals)

By Amy Green | [email protected]

 

December is an important time on the national awareness calendar. It is officially recognized as AIDS Awareness Month. Dec. 1 is recognized worldwide as AIDS Awareness Day. Now is time to learn more about human immunodeficiency virus or HIV.

HIV is a virus that develops into AIDS without the proper care and antiretroviral drugs. There are exciting new prevention measures for HIV, and there is a national need for more awareness. HIV wasn’t just a passing Hollywood scare of the 1980s. There are still newly diagnosed patients each year in Utah.

Kevin DeMass is a registered pharmacist with the state of Utah and a guru on HIV support. He is a trustee for the Utah AIDS Foundation and owner of The Apothecary Shoppe (www.apothecaryshoppeut.com), an independent community pharmacy and part of the Good Neighbor Pharmacy network in Salt Lake City (82 S. 1100 East, Suite 104). His goal is to help patients already diagnosed and educate everyone about prevention measures. DeMass believes knowledge is a key factor to someday eradicating HIV in Utah’s population and beyond.

DeMass can show anyone the statistical data. HIV is being diagnosed now most often at the ages of 13-34. It’s not just an STD (sexually transmitted disease) prevalent among the “promiscuous.” It can be more comfortable to think it’s not a problem in monogamous life. Actually, HIV is spread in ways one might not realize. “A low-risk life is not a zero-risk life,” DeMass said.

Who is at risk for possible exposure? DeMass explained who should be paying attention.

“You’re working in the ER, you’re a first responder, you’re a member of the SLC police department, you’re a dental assistant, you come upon an accident, you are a teacher and a child cuts their hand during cut-and-paste in the afternoon.” People of any age can be carriers. And people in many professions can be exposed.

HIV can also be spread by sharing needles, even one sample of heroin at a party. Or exposure can happen at a medical clinic where an employee gets poked when handling or cleaning surgical instruments. Do employers have a plan to protect medical and dental workers? Do staff members know what to do if they get cut, punctured or splashed in the eye? HIV is a crucial staff meeting subject. If you have an exposure to an HIV positive person, there’s now an approved protocol for immediate treatment.

Actually, there are two new treatment methods for the prevention of HIV transmission. The two methods are called PrEP and PEP. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is for people who do not have HIV but are at risk of getting HIV. Treatment is a simple daily pill.

Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (or PEP) is the use of antiretroviral drugs after a single high-risk event, like a needle puncture or unprotected sex. PEP must be started as soon as possible to be effective. One should not wait more than 72 hours after a possible exposure.

More information on PrEP and PEP can be found at the cdc.gov/hiv website.

There are different medication brands with both PrEP and PEP, with different side effects to each so talk to your health care provider if you may be a candidate.

DeMass offers important reminders that some jobs have daily exposure to bodily fluid contaminants. Also, that relationships come easier and more frequent through dating websites like Tinder and Bumble. Many people, including teens, are sharing stuff, navigating social and sexual freedoms. These are reasons to continue to take HIV and transmittable diseases very seriously.

Get tested, DeMass said. “If you’re a high-risk person, the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends you get an HIV test every year. If you have been a high-risk person only in the past, you should still get a new test each year, because you may be asymptomatic.” DeMass promotes getting a test at least once, even if you’re a low-risk person. Knowing your HIV status is an important part in prevention.

The Utah AIDS Foundation offers free confidential HIV/STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) testing and counseling (UtahAids.org).

Many might think that if one is living a conservative lifestyle, getting an HIV screening is not necessary. DeMass disagreed. “All of us, globally, should get one test in our lifetime. Even if you're monogamous, never had surgeries, haven't been to the dentist or never bleed. It's just one test.” DeMass encourages people to check out the Ryan White story at ryanwhite.com. Ryan was a 13-year-old boy who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion in the 1980s.

There are modern screenings in place to prevent HIV from being transmitted through blood transfusions today. However, DeMass pointed out, “We live on this planet with a lot of people. There are 38 million people infected with HIV today, and we share space every single day.”

DeMass said one can be exposed even if they haven't had surgery. One screening in a lifetime is suggested for everyone. He encourages all to ask for a test at least once. It can be done easily when getting regular blood work taken. Ask your doctor. Anybody can visit AIDSVu.org to find out where to get a free HIV test.

The UNAIDS organization has set an ambitious 90-90-90 treatment target to help end the AIDS epidemic. This goal is to have 90% of the world population know their HIV status. Then, to have 90% of infected individuals receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy. Finally, the goal is to have 90% of people receiving antiretroviral therapy, in viral suppression. More about the 90-90-90 program can be found at UNAIDS.org.

When it comes to HIV prevention, there’s one more simple thing all people can do: communicate. Talk with loved ones about prevention. Talk about the dangers of needle sharing. Get up to date with safety protocol in the workplace. And maintain strict protective sexual health habits.