CDC Warning about HIV

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The CDC published a warning about HIV in the US – less than a third of the people living with the virus are treating it properly and a fifth of the infected population don’t even know they have it. The concern is that without treatment, those infected will continue to spread the disease.

An important sub-category are those who abuse injectable drugs and get HIV from other users. This doesn’t have to come by way of direct needle sharing, although that happens. It can also occur when IV drug users use improper (non-sterile) technique by sharing water, filters, or other parts of their “kit.” Even a spoon used to mix a dose for one person can become a route of transmission to another.

According to the CDC reports, the number of cases of HIV from intravenous drug use has fallen between 2000 and 2009 (from 26% of AIDS cases down to about 18%), this demographic is harder to reach and harder to treat than most. The secretive nature of the activity coupled with legal issues makes contact and diagnosis a problem.

A further problem is that those who get HIV through drug use pass it along to others in their lives who are not at risk because they do not abuse drugs intravenously. A significant percentage of HIV cases come through sexual transmission between IV drug addicts and their partners. This may occur without either person being aware, adding to the “invisible victims” mentioned above.

Data on IV drug use and AIDS, along with current statistics can be found at the CDC site. The graphs do tell a tale. It appears that the curves drift down but then flatline. It is apparent that more needs to be done. With a reservoir of infected people in the population, HIV transmission will continue at this background rate.

The importance of identification and treatment cannot be overemphasized. When someone is on treatment for HIV, the transmission rate falls to less than 8% -- meaning the virus isn’t passed along as it otherwise would be. That’s a hugely important fact that should make it clear that testing for the virus with proper treatment would make it possible to reduce cases dramatically. Here we not only have a way to help those who would otherwise develop AIDS, but greatly reduce the risk of transmission and new cases.

One of the most tragic of these transmission events is when a mother gives HIV to her infant. If nothing else, this should encourage those who become pregnant to get tested immediately, more so if they use IV drugs.

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