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.
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.
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.