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World AIDS Day Highlights Testing, Treatment, Prevention

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About 22,000 Ohioans are currently living with HIV. (Pixabay)
About 22,000 Ohioans are currently living with HIV. (Pixabay)
December 1, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio — This year marks the 35th anniversary of the first detection of HIV. And while research has changed the outcomes for those living with HIV, experts say there is much more work to do.

Today is World AIDS Day, an annual observance to support people living with HIV, remember those who have died from the virus and encourage others to get tested.

The sooner someone knows they have the virus, the sooner they can begin treatment, said Dr. Michael Para, medical director of Equitas Health and associate dean of clinical research at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health. He said research also suggests that the use of treatment as a preventative measure can disrupt the spread of the virus.

"It really looks very convincing that by treating the person with HIV and getting their viral load down to zero, the chance of transmission is extraordinarily lower,” Para said. “So now we truly believe that by treating people, we actually will prevent infections."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an estimated 1.2 million Americans are currently infected with HIV, but one in eight don't know they have it. According to state data, there were 950 new HIV diagnoses in Ohio in 2014, and there are about 22,000 Ohioans currently living with HIV.

Christopher Hetzer of Columbus was diagnosed with HIV two years ago. He said his medication regimen keeps his viral loads so low that the virus actually is undetectable in his body. While it's important to build awareness on World AIDS Day, Hetzer said for him it's also a day of thanksgiving.

"I am very grateful for the continued efforts in research, and those dedicated to help finding a cure,” he said. "I've been blessed with a great family and friend network. They've been able to show me that love knows no status and I've been able to really overcome the stigma and judgment that surrounds it."

Thanks to treatment, Hetzer said he has a life expectancy is comparable to someone without the virus - a particularly noteworthy prognosis when compared to the early years of the epidemic. Those infected with HIV in the 1980s were given an average life expectancy of six months to a year.

Around Ohio, community and service provider programs - including Equitas Health - are available to help people connect with HIV testing sites, treatment providers, support groups and other resources.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH