6 Important Developments About HIV and AIDS From the Past 10 Years

Science has contributed greatly to HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment over the last decade.

Science has made great progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS over the last 10 years. There have been great achievements in “functional” cures, with better preventative efforts and more effective drugs that cause fewer side effects and lead to longer lives.

Here are six important developments that have changed the face of HIV and AIDS:

1. PrEP is effective

PrEP — which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis — can help those who are at a greater risk of contracting HIV, such as sex workers or those in a relationship with an HIV-positive partner. Although not 100 percent effective, recent studies have demonstrated that these daily pills can help prevent infection if taken regularly.

2. Earlier detection is possible

HIV can now be detected within weeks of exposure. Early detection can result in better health outcomes and near-normal lifespans. It can also prevent further transmission because a major part of new infections can come from those who have been recently infected.

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3. Undetectable viral loads reduce the spread of HIV

Thanks to the new drugs produced to keep the virus at bay, many HIV-positive individuals have an undetectable viral load in their blood streams. This low viral load can reduce the spread of HIV among heterosexual, gay and bisexual couples. Over the past several years, various studies have confirmed this trend, which has inspired new strategies that can help reduce the risk of transmission.

4. Longer lives for those with HIV

People with HIV in high-income Western countries are now living longer and healthier lives, thanks to the effective antiretroviral drugs introduced in the 1990s. However, it’s important to note that the death rate among HIV-positive people continues to be higher than HIV-negative people. Most deaths in HIV-positive individuals are connected to late detection of the disease.

5. Demographics have shifted

As people continue to live healthy and longer lives with HIV, the demographics of the HIV-positive population is also shifting. According to the CDC, in 2014, an estimated 1.2 million people were living with HIV in the United States. An estimated 44,073 people were diagnosed with HIV infection in the United States in 2014. The number of new HIV diagnoses fell 19 percent from 2005 to 2014. Despite some progress, HIV infection has increased among a few groups, such as African-American gay and bisexual men, who accounted for the largest number of estimated HIV diagnoses (11,201).

6. A cure may be in sight

According to a study published in the journal of Scientific Reports, researches are looking at a new method of curing the disease by targeting the genetic code of HIV that goes inside the cell. The new method uses the protein Cas9, which was modified in order to recognize HIV’s genetic code that inserts itself in the cells. Once the modified protein recognizes HIV’s genetic code, an enzyme will be released to remove the sequence, snipping away the virus. After the process, this “clean” blood is injected back to the patient. This is just the beginning of what may be a huge breakthrough in the fight against the disease.

Also, according to the NIH, scientists have identified an antibody from an HIV-infected person that potently neutralized 98 percent of HIV isolates tested, including 16 of 20 strains resistant to other antibodies of the same class. The breadth and potency of this antibody, named N6, make it an attractive candidate for further development to potentially treat or prevent HIV infection, according to the researchers.

By Ramin Zahed

Positive Care at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles provides a full spectrum of treatments focusing on the needs of patients living with HIV and AIDS. Our experts in Positive Care include a team of infectious disease physicians and general internists specializing in HIV. At Keck Medicine of USC, our expert physicians are committed to providing comprehensive adult primary care to all members of our community. We provide services at our Keck Medical Center and Downtown Los Angeles locations. To find out more, visit http://www.keckmedicine.org/positive-care/.