Did you know that approximately 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and 13 percent of the HIV-positive population is unaware of their status? Although HIV has a disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities, intravenous drug users and men who have sex with men, no one is immune. Because HIV is incurable but highly treatable, knowing your status and practicing prevention are important. Here are four ways to prevent and treat HIV.
If you use intravenous drugs, the best thing to do is get help for your addiction. However, using clean needles can reduce your risk of HIV if you aren't ready to quit yet. Many cities and states have needle-exchange programs that offer clean needles with no cost and no questions.
Because sex is one of the most common ways that HIV is spread, practicing safe sex is important for reducing the risk to yourself and your partners. Always use a condom for any type of sex, and get tested for HIV and other STDs and STIs regularly. If you have HIV, remember to take your medication and have your viral load monitored to avoid transmitting the disease to partners.
Two revolutionary medications in the fight against HIV are PrEP and PEP. PrEP is a pre-exposure prophylaxis drug that is taken by HIV-negative people before having sex with an HIV-positive person. PEP is a post-exposure prophylaxis drug that can be taken after a suspected exposure. PEP is also commonly administered to victims of rape and sexual assault. You can get both drugs from your primary care doctor or a low-cost clinic like CAN Community Health.
Another medical innovation that has transformed HIV from a death sentence into a manageable condition is antiretroviral drugs. If taken regularly and correctly, these medications can give you a normal life with HIV and prevent your sex partners from contracting the disease. HIV patients can even have healthy pregnancies and breastfeed if they keep their viral load suppressed with medications.
Remember, time is everything when it comes to HIV. If you think you are in danger of contracting HIV, discuss your risk factors with your doctor, and don't wait to get tested. It's also important to get treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis to keep the virus from continuing to harm your immune system and developing into AIDS.