What is HIV? 

History

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has been regarded as an epidemic for decades, and still presents a great burden on communities and social systems.  This disease began to devastate communities in the 1980s, as people were not entirely aware of what this disease was, and the government was slow to launch treatment and prevention measures. HIV/AIDS has grown to be a tremendously dangerous force, with over 36.7 million people currently living with the disease [2]. An estimated 1.8 million individuals worldwide became newly infected with HIV in 2016 – about 5,000 new infections per day [2].

 

Biology

HIV is a disease that impacts the immune system, in which the virus attacks the body’s T-cells. Over time, this reduction of T-cells hampers the body’s ability to fight off other infections and diseases [7]. HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids, and the most common ways in which this disease is spread is through sharing needles and unprotected sex. Historically, HIV has impacted communities of gay men the hardest. As such, there is an added level of complexity when it comes to government response and personal disease reporting, as complex social views on sexuality cloud the nature of this infectious disease. 

 

Treatment Methods

Post-Exposure Treatment

While there is no cure for this disease, the emergence of improved post-exposure treatment combinations has increased the overall life expectancy of HIV+ individuals to 32.1 years from the time of diagnosis. This treatment method is known as Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) and is composed of a cocktail of various drugs that the patients must take every single day for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, this can be very expensive, and a lifetime’s treatment can reach upwards of $375,000 [15].

Pre-Exposure Treatment

The importance of preventative measures is clear from both medical and economic perspectives. One of the most promising preventative strategies is known as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP came to market in the past few years, and is a daily pill taken before potential exposure to HIV. Etiologically, PrEP creates an environment in the body that HIV cannot survive in. Taking the pill with the prescribed adherence has been shown to tremendously reduce the risk for HIV [5].