Living Well

Though declining, HIV is still a significant health concern

Dr. Alan Bowers
Though declining, HIV is still a significant health concern

June 27 is National HIV Testing Day

More than one million people in the U.S. have HIV, also known as the human immunodeficiency virus, a virus that leads to the disease of AIDS if left untreated. It’s almost hard to believe, but HIV and AIDS have now been around for 40 years. Though not as prevalent as it was decades ago, there are still tens of thousands of yearly undiagnosed cases in the U.S. The only way to learn if you’ve been exposed is to get tested for the virus, as knowing your status is key to staying healthy.

It took a child to open the eyes of the world to AIDS

In 1990, a young teenager from Indiana named Ryan White died of AIDS. At the time, AIDS was considered a disease that most impacted the gay male community as when it was first discovered, most of those suffering from this deadly disease were homosexual men. However, White changed the tone of the conversation as he, being a hemophiliac, contracted the disease through a blood transfusion and died just months after being diagnosed. Today, HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence, as basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson can attest to. After having numerous relationships with women he didn’t know, Johnson tested positive for HIV in 1991 and has been living with the virus since. Johnson’s road to survival started with being tested, and that is something people should do at least once in their life if they don’t have other risk factors. For others, getting tested regularly is encouraged if:

  • You are a drug user, especially a user of injection drugs
  • Have multiple sexual partners regardless of sexual orientation
  • Have recently been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection

As for White’s case, following his death, more stringent protocols were put into place concerning blood and blood product donations, and today all donations are screened for diseases including HIV and Hepatitis B and C, and if any donation is suspect, it’s discarded.

Knowing your risks promotes better outcomes

Preventative medicine is always the best medicine, and knowing your risk is the first step to prevention, and the numbers show that preventive measures are paying off compared to a few decades ago. According to the latest data, HIV declined 8 percent from 2015-2019. While that is good news, there is still work to be done, and a lot of that work involves continued education among those most at risk as HIV continues to heavily impact:

  • People aged 25-34 followed by 35-44
  • Blacks/African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos populations
  • Gay men

If you do fall in a high-risk group, knowing the symptoms of HIV are vital, and some of those symptoms include:

  • Low-grade fever
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Rash
  • Swollen or abnormal lymph nodes
  • Soaking night sweats
  • White spots or unusual lesions on the tongue or in the mouth

When it comes to education, June 27 is known as National HIV Testing Day, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is encouraging everyone who is at risk, or those who’ve never been tested, to get tested. Today, testing can be done by your primary care doctor or through a take-home self-test. Magic Johnson is just one example of how people are living longer and healthier lives even if they have HIV as treatment is easier than it was years ago as medications have fewer side effects. However, the first step is knowing if you have HIV and the only way to do that is to get tested.

About Dr. Alan Bowers
Headshot of Dr. Alan Bowers, Internal MedicineDr. Alan Bowers specializes in Internal Medicine at West Jefferson Medical Center Primary Care and is the Strategic Outreach Director in addition to his daily role as a physician. With over 22 years of experience, he continues his practice because he feels strongly tied to this Westbank community in which he was born and raised.