In 2017, West Virginia had one of the lowest rates of HIV diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, largely attributed to the current opioid crisis, we are seeing an increase of cases in our state.
This includes Cabell County, which has experienced an HIV cluster this year. The cluster is now up to 49 known cases. This is large compared to its baseline of five new HIV cases per year. The cause: shared needles because of the opioid epidemic.
Preventing HIV is a lot easier today than it ever has been.
HIV is spread through certain body fluids—blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk. Only people with HIV can transmit it.
The contaminated fluids must come into contact with a mucous membrane/damaged tissue or be directly injected into the blood stream.
Where you live can be related to HIV. If you live somewhere where HIV is prevalent, there is a higher chance of having sex or sharing needles with someone who has HIV.
There are a few groups of people who also have an increased risk for HIV. Gay and bisexual men have the largest number of new diagnoses in the United States. Transgender women who have sex with men are at a higher risk for HIV, along with injection drug users.
Ways to reduce the risk of getting or transmitting HIV:
• Choose less risky behaviors
• Take medication to prevent and treat HIV
• Use condoms with lubricant
Treatment as prevention (TasP) is an HIV medication to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV. This treatment helps people who are living with HIV stay healthy, but it also helps prevent transmission of the virus to others.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication that is taken if you are at a very high risk for HIV. It is highly effective, but only if used as prescribed. So, if you are taking a PrEP, make sure you are taking it consistently.
The third type of medication you can take is for post-exposure (PEP). This is the medication you would take after a recent possible exposure to HIV. PEP is only used in emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after the exposure.
June 27 is National HIV Testing Day. If you could be at risk for HIV, it is important to get tested because you cannot rely on symptoms alone.
At MCHD Clinical Services, HIV testing is free and is done by a nurse on a staff that prides itself on being non-judgmental and friendly.
So, what can you expect if you get HIV? According to hiv.gov, during the early stages of HIV, about 40-90 percent of people have symptoms within two to four weeks after they are infected.
If these symptoms are present, then they will mimic flu-like symptoms such as; fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and mouth ulcers.
HIV is a virus that attacks and reduces the body’s T cells, which are a part of the body’s immune system. This damage to the immune system makes it harder and harder for the body to fight off infections and other diseases.
This virus is unlike many others, because once you acquire it, you will have it for life. Even if you receive treatment, you will never completely get rid of it.
Fortunately, you can control HIV with treatment. However, if not controlled, HIV can turn into an acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is the most severe phase of HIV.
If HIV progresses to AIDS, then the immune system is damaged further and you then become vulnerable to opportunistic infections that can lead to death.
HIV is also linked with viral hepatitis. According to the CDC, 25 percent of people who are living with HIV are also co-infected with hepatitis C and 10 percent are coinfected with hepatitis B.
Concerned? Call MCHD Clinical Services at 304-598-5119 to set up an appointment for testing.