National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

The HIV pandemic started in the early 1980s, and killed millions of people across the world, including gay men. Misinformation, fear, and stigmas fueled the crisis and gay men were unfairly targeted, and as a result HIV spread throughout the world. September 27 is National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and while much progress has been made in the battle against HIV, there is still work to be done including continued testing and prophylactic treatments.

Great strides have been made in HIV treatment in rich nations, however it remains deadly in poorer countries. As we look back in history, we can see that the HIV/AIDS pandemic gained traction because of the stigma that only gay and men who have sex with men were affected. In June of 1981 the CDC took note of a rare lung infection in five previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles. Doctors also started to note that the men had other unusual infections, and that their immune systems weren’t working. Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that affects those with weak immune systems also started to cluster in New York and California. As a result of government inaction, gay men died at a rapid rate.

In the 1990s drugs including AZT were developed to help block the proteins the virus needed to replicate itself. New types of drugs were developed to help fight the rapidly changing virus. Antiretroviral medications were prescribed in addition to AZT to lengthen the life span of those infected with HIV. In 2010 a study showed that taking antiretrovirals helped protect healthy people from becoming infected. In 2012 Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) was developed and approved by the FDA for HIV prevention.

HIV Treatment Advancements

Today we know even more about HIV and how it spreads. HIV no longer has the terror associated with it that it once did and while scientific progress has helped people live longer, it may have made people complacent about prevention.

Locally, M-Care partners with Positive Directions and Community Walgreens to fast-track individuals who want to start on PrEP. Those who want to start PrEP must take a blood test to screen for any initial STIs, including HIV. M-Care will then screen the patient for kidney function and prescribe PrEP all in one visit. Community Walgreens may be able to provide financial assistance with prescriptions for those who are eligible.

In addition to PrEP, post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can help prevent HIV in people who may have had a possible exposure. PrEP does not prevent other STIs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and hepatitis C, therefore using internal or external condoms or dental dams is still highly recommended to protect against those infections.

Local Resources for HIV Prevention

If you think you may be at risk for contracting HIV, talk to their health care provider. To schedule a free STI test and start the PrEP process, contact Positive Directions at 316-263-2214.

Monkeypox: What You Need to Know

Monkeypox has been labeled a global threat by the World Health Organization. While not as contagious as Covid, monkeypox is a virus that we should take seriously including following precautions and educating ourselves about the disease.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is an orthopoxvirus, like smallpox, although not as contagious and not as deadly. The disease has been endemic in some African countries but was rarely reported in Western countries until recently. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the reason monkeypox has continued to be present in Africa is “due to unequal access to global vaccine stockpiles and healthcare resources.”

The virus is zoonotic, meaning it came from animals and spread to humans. According to the CDC, monkeypox is believed to have originated in small mammals including rodents such as prairie dogs, squirrels, hedgehogs, and shrews as well as monkeys and anteaters.

Symptoms of Monkeypox

There are a variety of symptoms, and an infected person may experience all or only a few including flu-like symptoms before a rash, a rash first then other symptoms, or only a rash. Major symptoms include:

Symptoms usually start within three weeks of exposure to the virus with flu-like symptoms and the rash will appear one to four days later. Monkeypox will last about two to four weeks and can be spread from the time symptoms appear through the rash and until all scabs have fallen off.

What Scientists Know About How Monkeypox is Spread

Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease, and contrary to how it is portrayed in the media, men who have sex with men are not the only at-risk group. Portraying monkeypox as a disease only acquired by gay and bisexual men, just as AIDS was depicted in the 1980s is misleading and dangerous to the public. A “gay disease” stigma endangers the rest of the population which are just as vulnerable, but who may feel a false sense of security because of the “gay only” stigma, similar to HIV and how it spread far beyond the gay community.

Monkeypox is spread through close, personal, skin-to-skin contact. It can be spread through animals, including scratches or bites from an infected animal.

It can also spread from a pregnant person to a fetus through the placenta.

Most commonly it can be passed through hugging, massage, kissing, contact with respiratory secretions from coughing or sneezing, and contact with fabrics (linens, towels, clothes) that have been used by someone with monkeypox. Direct contact can also occur with sexual activity between any people as skin-to-skin contact is a major risk factor.

Touching a rash, scab, sore or bodily fluids of someone with monkeypox can also spread the illness.

What Remains Unclear

Scientists are still studying if monkeypox can be spread through semen, vaginal fluids, or feces. They are also learning more about how often monkeypox is spread through respiratory secretions, and which symptoms may indicate someone is contagious. Finally, scientists still are unsure if monkeypox can spread without symptoms.

What Should You Do?

We currently don’t have any known cases of monkeypox in Sedgwick County. However, if you suspect you may have been exposed, contact your health care provider right away. Wear a mask to protect others and refrain from close skin-to-skin contact.

There aren’t any known treatments for monkeypox, however, some antivirals such as tecovirimat (TPOXX) and vaccines developed for smallpox may be used to protect against monkeypox and severe illness. Some individuals 18 or older may be eligible for a vaccine if they know they have had close or intimate contact with an infected person, have been contacted by the health department as a close contact, or are a public health care provider or laboratory worker.

If you are diagnosed with monkeypox, you can manage your symptoms. According to the CDC you can take steps to make yourself more comfortable as you recover including:

Monkeypox is spreading at a rapid rate, however with precautions, and education, you can help protect yourself and your loved ones from this disease.

Mental Health Resources in Wichita

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. The world has come a long way in recent years as people discuss mental illness and share their stories. The stigmas surrounding mental health are slowly being broken down, although there is still much work to do.  

Mental health resources in Wichita exist to help those with mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, PTSD, bipolar, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder, and others. There are common signs of mental illness to watch for in yourself or a loved one. 

Common Signs  

There are some common signs of mental illness that you may notice in yourself or a loved one. These signs include: 

How to Get Help 

Getting help for a mental illness is critical. Your treatment options will depend on the type of mental illness, and the severity. For some medication may be required, for others therapy alone can help and for many, both are necessary. Regardless, it’s important to see a professional to get a diagnosis and get the best treatment options. 

Mental Health Resources in Wichita 

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Wichita – This organization has resources for individuals, family members, community members, schools, veterans, workplaces, and faith leaders.  

COMCARE – This organization is a program of Sedgwick County. The mission is to help people with mental health and substance abuse issues improve the quality of their lives. Services are offered regardless of ability to pay. 

MHA of South Central Kansas – The mission of this organization is to help youth, families and adults in the community achieve optimal mental health and wellness. Free services may be available. 

Breakthrough – This organization is formerly Episcopal Social Services and helps people move out of poverty and to recover well while living with mental illness. 

National Mental Health Resources 

Trevor Project – This organization helps LGBTQIA+ youth who are thinking of harming themselves.  

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – SAMHSA is a free, confidential treatment referral and information service that operates 24/7, 365 day-a-year. 

We’re Here for You 

At M-Care we believe your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you are experiencing any of the signs of mental illness, please talk to our staff and reach out to one of the resources listed on our blog. Our staff can also refer you or a loved one to a private therapy provider. Asking for help is the first step to healing, and we’re here for you. 

What Does it Mean to Have an Undetectable HIV Viral Load?  

While there is currently no cure for HIV, advancements in research have created treatments that help to reduce the viral load in the bloodstream. When the viral load in the bloodstream is low enough (less than 200 copies of HIV per milliliter of plasma), it will not be detectable on a routine HIV viral load blood test. While the patient has an undetectable HIV viral load, they still have HIV, but there is little to no risk of transmitting sexually to a partner, provided the viral load is undetectable for at least six months. 

While having an undetectable viral load prevents the spread of HIV from sexual contact, it’s not known if HIV could still spread through sharing needles or drug injection equipment. According to the CDC, it will likely reduce the risk of transmission, but it’s not known by how much. Therefore, sharing needles, even with an undetectable viral load, is still considered risky.  

How Do I Get an Undetectable HIV Viral Load? 

Starting HIV treatment as soon as you’re diagnosed will help you start to reduce your viral load. The medications to treat HIV are considered antiretroviral therapy (ART). HIV is a retrovirus, so ART will suppress the ability of HIV to create more copies of itself, leading to a low viral load. ART also helps the body to increase the CD4 count, a type of cell that helps your body fight infection. The CD4 count is an important measure of health for people with HIV.  

Part of keeping a low viral load is the continuation of treatment. Missing doses can lead to HIV multiplying, which can weaken your immune system. You may need to plan ahead if you have a busy schedule so you can stay on track. If you experience side effects that make it difficult for you to take your medication, talk to your provider. Sometimes people may have a mental health or substance abuse issue that can cause them to forget medications or simply not be able to manage medications properly. If you have trouble taking your medication, talk to your health care provider. 

Stay on Track with Treatment 

HIV has gone from a fatal illness to a manageable chronic illness—however, those who are HIV positive still need to take their diagnoses seriously and do what is needed to keep an undetectable viral load. If you need help managing your HIV treatment, contact M-Care Healthcare. We want to help you stay healthy and have an undetectable viral load. 

 

How Does PrEP Work?

PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a medication developed to help people at risk for HIV to take to prevent getting HIV from both sex and injection drug use. PrEP was approved for adult use in 2012 and currently, there are two medications prescribed for PrEP—Truvada, and Descovy. How does it work? We examine how PrEP works as well as how to use PrEP safely and effectively.

How It Works

PrEP prevents HIV from replicating in the body. The medication helps the body produce antibodies and if it encounters the HIV virus, the active ingredients (tenofovir and emtricitabine) actually block the enzyme that is necessary for the virus to replicate.

When taken as directed, it’s 99% effective at preventing HIV infection. If someone is exposed to the virus when taking PrEP, it will reduce the likelihood of becoming infected. The medication is taken one of two ways, including one tablet per day for seven days and every day. This HIV prevention medication is most effective when used as directed.

Who Should Take These Medications?

PrEP is most effective for people who do not already have HIV, but who are more likely to come into contact. This includes sexually active people and those who use intravenous drugs and share needles. It can also be taken by any one of any gender who has risk factors for contracting HIV.

How Can I Get a Prescription?

M-Care is partnering with Positive Directions to make PrEP access faster and easier for those in the community. The first step is to get initial bloodwork done to test for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Then, you are screened for kidney function and receive your prescription in the same visit. Every three months, you follow up at M-Care to monitor your medication and how you’re responding to it.

Safe Sex

PrEP is an effective tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS. However, condoms are still recommended for those who have multiple sexual partners to help prevent other STIs outside of HIV. Don’t be pressured to have sex with someone without a condom and don’t pressure others to have sex with you without one. Condoms remain a practical way to prevent STIs as well as unwanted pregnancy.

M-Care and PrEP

Contact Positive Directions at 316-263-2214 to set up your initial bloodwork and after that is complete, M-Care can provide your renal function evaluation and prescription. If you have any questions or need to set up new patient paperwork, you can contact us.

 

Facing COVID-19 as a Community

COVID-19 is a community issue, not a personal one. When something affects large masses of people, it transcends being personal. Vaccines, wearing masks, and social distancing are key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 within our community according to the CDC. These necessary actions are the responsibility of us all, especially those in positions of power. We’re in this together, and this is about protecting not one, but all of us in this community. We can’t afford to sit idly by or leave things up to personal choice when it comes to COVID-19 safety.

“The medical community is really struggling. The burnout currently present and the PTSD that’s coming for so many really scares me. The hospitals are in crisis mode and there’s no end in sight. Even outpatient clinics, like mine, have high percentages of staff members out resulting in delays in care services. We need the community’s help” says owner of M-Care Healthcare, Amanda Mogoi, APRN, FNP-C.

COVID-19 in Schools

It’s not just medical professionals that are seeing burnout and experiencing distress. Our teachers, students, and school employees are navigating the line between community responsibility and personal choice daily.

“I can only imagine the situation at the schools. My heart goes out to the staff that is being thrown into the middle of this pandemic amongst the unmasked and unvaccinated with no ability to require any kind of protection for themselves. I feel this is unreasonable and unfair to require of teachers and staff.” Mogoi adds.

Many schools are not mandating masks or vaccines, leaving community safety up to individual choice. This is affecting the lives of many as our community navigates pandemic protocols within schools. As a result, schools are closing for short periods of time because there simply aren’t enough staff to operate safely. Closed schools affect kids, parents and our communities. We must do better.

Protect Yourself and Others

Slowing the spread and ending this pandemic will take community involvement and dedication.

There are ways to protect yourself and slow the spread of Covid-19.

We’re in this together.

 

CDC COVID safety recommendations