After third HIV remission case, more in Baton Rouge area hope for a cure
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A woman is in remission from HIV after undergoing stem cell transplant treatment. Researchers said she’s only the third person ever known to presumably beat the disease.
But her treatment is not available to everyone.
More than four thousand people in Baton Rouge are living with HIV as of the most recent data from 2020.
“What happens is as you test more people, you’re going to find more people that are positive,” Healthy BR executive director, Jared Hymowitz, said.
More testing has helped them get people to care early, Hymowitz said.
“What we’re doing is we’re finding people that are HIV positive at very low viral loads which means they may have recently been infected and so what we can do is we can get them the care that they need so they don’t continue to transmit HIV to other people,” he said.
But when they get that care, the treatment is now more convenient and safer, according to Dr. Byron Jasper.
“At one point when you would get treated for HIV you would take medication several times a day, then eventually we got down to one pill once a day, now the most recent thing is now we’re at one shot once a month, and so at this point, some people have the opportunity to take less medicine and still achieve the same status of being undetectable,” he said.
But detecting HIV early is key, and one way to help with that, other than testing, is ending the stigma around the disease.
“When you have diabetes or hypertension, you have no problem telling someone that but for some reason when we hear someone has a mental health or HIV diagnosis, we look at them funny, so we have to get over that idea that people living with HIV are somehow very contagious,” Jasper said.
Stem cell transplants are giving HIV patients hope a cure is on the way, though recent medical breakthroughs are still being studied.
“We’re not quite there but we’re making huge strides and by seeing those strides people are starting to feel a little bit better about their status being HIV positive and that’s always a great thing,” Jasper said.
HIV resources can be found on the Healthy BR website by clicking here.
Recent data from Healthy BR:
HIV Care Continuum
The HIV Care Continuum is a public health model that outlines the steps and stages people living with HIV go through from diagnosis to achieving and maintaining viral suppression (a very low or undetectable amount of HIV virus in the body).
The steps are:
- Persons living with HIV (PLWH): Someone who has tested positive for HIV and resides in the jurisdiction
- Engaged in HIV care: PLWH who has had their blood drawn to identify the amount of HIV in their system at least 1 time in the year
- Retention in HIV care: PLWH who has been had their blood drawn to identify the amount of HIV in their system at least 2 times in the year, at least 90 days apart
- Viral suppression: PLWH whose viral load or amount of HIV in their body is low enough to be undetectable by blood test (<200 copies/ml)
- PLWH in care virally suppressed: PLWH who are engaged in care and are virally suppressed.
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