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HIV/AIDS Awareness: How Aware Are You?

Advancing HIV/AIDS Care

Approximately 1.2 million Americans currently live with HIV. The disease affects gay and bisexual men far more than any other demographic. Black and Latino men and women are more likely to be affected by HIV than white men and women. People who use injectable drugs and transgender individuals are also at risk for being affected by HIV.

With appropriate treatment, the disease can be stopped from turning into AIDS. However, more than 1 in 10 people with HIV don’t know they have it.

Left undiagnosed and untreated, HIV continues attacking your immune system. In time, this increases your risk of AIDS. It also raises the likelihood that you’ll transmit the disease to others.

Appropriate medication reduces the amount of HIV virus in your body, which can reduce symptoms. Medication, such as a daily pill called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, also lowers the risk of transmitting the disease to others.

“The best way to reduce HIV transmission is to effectively treat people who have it by bringing their viral load down to undetectable levels,” says Benjamin Scallon, M.D., internal medicine physician at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Undetectable means untransmissible. And PrEP is a very useful tool for reducing risk.”

While medication reduces these risks, it doesn’t eliminate them altogether. An innovative treatment provided by Weill Cornell Medicine may change that.

In February 2022, Weill Cornell Medicine reported a potential cure for HIV while at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.

Researchers made the discovery while treating a leukemia patient who had HIV. As can happen, the patient’s prescribed chemotherapy regimen damaged her blood supply. To overcome this problem, the patient received a stem-cell transplant. These cells came from a healthy adult relative and an unrelated newborn.

The newborn’s blood came from the baby’s umbilical cord. In addition to helping reestablish the patient’s blood supply, this blood contained a special gene variant. Known as CCR5Δ32, the variant is HIV-resistant.

In time, all the patient’s blood came from this HIV-resistant strain. Once this happened, the patient was able to stop taking HIV medication. More than a year later, the patient showed no signs of HIV. Additionally, the patient’s leukemia has remained in remission for more than four years.

This is the third reported case of a potential HIV cure.

Could stem cells lead the way to a world without HIV/AIDS? Possibly. If so, Weill Cornell Medicine looks forward to participating in this world-changing cure.

“We’re light years ahead of where we were when the AIDS epidemic started in the 1980s, when we were really dealing with something that was scary, completely new and novel, and essentially amounted to a death sentence for people who were infected with HIV,” Dr. Scallon says. “We’re in a really exciting place when it comes to HIV treatment and HIV prevention.”

May 18: HIV Vaccine Awareness Day

Unfortunately, there isn’t an HIV/AIDS vaccine. Why have an awareness day in honor of a non-existent HIV vaccine? To honor those working toward this potentially lifesaving treatment.

There’s a lot of ongoing work that many people may not realize is going on. Researchers work tirelessly to discover an effective vaccine for HIV. They labor in laboratories across the world, hoping to uncover a way to immunize the global population against HIV/AIDS.

HIV Vaccine Awareness Day is a unique opportunity to bring these researchers into the spotlight. Researchers aren’t the only ones who deserve praise: so do the volunteers and community members who work alongside them.

Throughout the research phase, there is no guarantee that a vaccine will succeed. Volunteers make it possible to test new vaccines.

Finally, community members who support the research get applauded on this day. In large-scale trials, the involvement of the community is integral to the success of the trial. These community members reach into the communities most at risk for HIV/AIDS and encourage them to participate in clinical trials. Together, these individuals work toward a vaccine that will change the world.

Increase HIV/AIDS Awareness All Year Round

May isn’t the only month with HIV/AIDS awareness opportunities. Dedicated days during other months provide opportunities to learn more about the disease.

Learn more about HIV and AIDS throughout the year on these dates:

  • Feb. 7: National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
  • Feb. 28: HIV Is Not a Crime Awareness Day
  • March 10: National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
  • March 20: National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
  • April 10: National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day
  • June 5: HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day
  • June 27: National HIV Testing Day
  • Aug. 29: National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
  • Sept. 18: National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day
  • Sept. 27: National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
  • Oct. 15: National Latinx AIDS Awareness Day
  • Dec. 1: World AIDS Day

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