Dr. Jeannette Ouyang-Latimer from Kelsey-Seybold explains the importance of early detection and HIV/AIDS treatment options.

Because of advances in treatment, people with HIV/AIDS are living longer, healthier lives. Although there’s still no cure for the disease, HIV is a manageable condition with numerous medications able to suppress the infection with almost no risk of transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner. 

HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s white blood cells, reducing the body’s ability to combat other infections and diseases, including cancers. It is spread from person to person through direct contact with blood and other bodily fluids, usually during sex or sharing needles.

Kelsey-Seybold is considered one of the top-10 largest HIV clinics in Houston and Kelsey-Seybold’s specialists in Infectious Disease serve a large HIV-positive population and dedicate most of their time to their care.

Early diagnosis is key in treating HIV and preventing infecting others. Yet despite advances in treatment, one in seven people with HIV don’t know they have it and 80% of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who haven’t been diagnosed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Many people infected with HIV don’t notice symptoms. That’s why it’s important to be screened with tests that check blood and other body fluids. HIV testing is the only way to determine if the virus is present and treatment is necessary.

Testing for HIV

If done at Kelsey-Seybold, an order would be placed at one of our in-house labs to take a blood sample. Should a test result come back as HIV-positive, the patient would be referred to the Infectious Disease Clinic to determine the best treatment protocol.

HIV Treatment Options

An Infectious Disease specialist is the best source for identifying HIV-related infections and determining the best treatment options.

Today, treatment usually involves taking a protocol of medicines known as antiretroviral therapy (or ART) that works to suppress the virus. 

Patients on ART take a combination of HIV medications called HIV treatment regimen. Initial HIV treatment includes two to three HIV medicines from at least two different drug classes. For most patients, these medicines are combined into a once-daily pill or long-acting injections that are given every two months.

Before starting ART, a physician will evaluate a patient’s overall health to check for underlying medical conditions, as well as any medicines the patient is taking or may have taken. Once therapy begins, ART reduces the amount of HIV in a patient’s body and, if patients follow lifestyle suggestions, ART will help get – and keep – them healthier.

People evaluated positive for an HIV infection should start ART as soon as possible; for some, that means starting the same day of diagnosis.

After beginning ART, patients must follow doctor-recommended lifestyle modifications. I have found that when my patients engage with me and follow their recommended treatment plan combined with committing to a healthier lifestyle and keep all their in-clinic appointments, we can often have the virus under control within two months.

As with any medications, side effects may be expected when starting treatment. However, these side effects are usually short lived. Typically, we can find a regimen where there are no side effects. When side effects do occur, they could include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

If a patient experiences side effects that may make them consider stopping the medication, they need to talk with their doctor. Should a patient interrupt treatment protocols, they’re giving HIV a chance to multiply. This could severely weaken their already stressed immune system, leaving them sicker. What’s worse, is leaving the infection untreated. Untreated HIV can devastate the immune system, putting a patient at risk for opportunistic infections and cancers.

 

PrEp as a Preventive Treatment

 

If someone doesn’t have HIV but could be at an elevated risk of contracting the virus, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) may be an option. PrEp is readily available for those engaged in high-risk sexual activities. When monitored by a knowledgeable physician, PrEp medications – either as one pill a day or an injection every two months – can help prevent any HIV infection.

 

Reducing Your STI Risks

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common among sexually active people. This includes teenagers and older adults – including those residing in assisted-living communities.

You can help lower the risk of contracting STIs and HIV by modifying high-risk behaviors such as:

  • Reducing the number of sex partners.
  • Not drinking alcohol or using drugs before intimate contact as this can lead to poor decisions that harm your health.
  • Using condoms correctly.
  • Staying current on recommended vaccines.

And remember, with HIV or any STI, early detection and treatment is the key to reducing more severe health consequences.

 

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By Jeannette Ouyang-Latimer, MPH, MD
Kelsey-Seybold Clinic

Dr. Latimer is a board-certified Infectious Disease physician with a master’s degree in epidemiology and global health. To request an appointment, call Kelsey-Seybold’s 24/7

Contact Center at 713-442-0000. Read Dr. Ouyang-Latimer’s online biography.