6 Things the LGBTQ Community Should Know About HIV
Since its discovery in 1982, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has affected certain groups of people more than others. Most commonly, HIV is spread through contact with bodily fluids during sexual intercourse or through the sharing of needles for injected drug use. Without treatment, HIV can turn into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), the final stage of HIV infection. While anyone can become infected with HIV, the highest rates of infection are seen among the LGBTQ community. It’s important for people who identify as LGBTQ to know that, even though your risk for contracting HIV may be higher, learning more about the virus can help keep you as healthy as possible.
1. Gay and bisexual men are most affected.
According to recent data, as many as 1.1 million people in the United States live with HIV. But estimates show almost 82% of new HIV infections occur in men who are gay or bisexual.
Within this community, African-American men are most likely to become infected with HIV. And while doctors have many modern tools for diagnosing the disease, 1 in 6 gay or bisexual men aren’t aware they’re infected.
2. More frequent testing is recommended.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual HIV testing for anyone at higher risk of contracting the disease. However, members of the LGBTQ community should consider more frequent testing, especially since rates of HIV infection are highest among this group. Instead of waiting a full year to be tested, test every 3 to 6 months to stay informed of your HIV status.
3. You can prevent HIV with a pill.
Thanks to tremendous advances in medical research, it’s possible to limit your risk of contracting HIV even if you’re at a higher risk of becoming infected. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication, called Truvada, that you take every day. Truvada helps your body prevent HIV from starting a permanent infection inside your body if you’re exposed to the virus. You should consider treatment with PrEP if you’re not infected with HIV, but are at higher risk for contracting the disease. PrEP may be right for you if:
You don’t have HIV, but your partner does
You’ve had sex without a condom in the last six months
Your sexual partners don’t know their HIV status
You share needles for injecting drugs
PrEP can lower your risk of contracting HIV by as much as 90% when taken every day. You should only start PrEP if you can commit to taking the drug every day without failure. Missing doses reduces PrEP’s effectiveness and, in some cases, can make a person more vulnerable to treatment-resistant HIV strains. Using PrEP with other preventative methods, like condoms, can lower your risk even more. PrEP is not approved for individuals with hepatitis B because taking Truvada could make the hepatitis B infection much worse.
4. Taking your HIV medications daily helps protect your partner.
If you have HIV, taking your HIV medications is essential for helping you stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. But sticking to your treatment schedule also helps protect your partner. HIV medications, such as fosamprenavir (Lexiva), dolutegravir (Juluca), and a combination of abacavir, dolutegravir and lamivudine called Triumeq, reduce the amount of the virus inside your body, making it less likely for you to pass on the virus during sexual activity. Some studies show that, if your viral load is suppressed or undetectable due to treatment, your likelihood of passing HIV on to your partner can be as low as zero.
5. Rates of HIV infection are falling in certain LGBTQ groups.
Within certain groups in the LGBTQ community, rates of HIV infections are falling. Recent data suggests the number of people living with HIV infections has declined among gay and bisexual men aged 13 to 24 and aged 35 to 44. Also, Caucasian gay and bisexual men have seen a decrease in the amount of people infected.
6. People with HIV still lead long, full lives.
HIV is a serious infection, but receiving a diagnosis is not the same as it once was. Today, six classes of anti-HIV drugs are the cornerstones of treatment plans that allow people living with HIV to live long, full lives. Following your doctor’s recommended treatment plan is vital for achieving better health. New research shows that, with treatment, individuals living with HIV live almost as long as people without the disease.
If you’re concerned about your HIV status and want to know more about your risk factors, talking with your doctor can help you determine how to reduce your risk of contracting the disease. Your doctor can help you get tested for HIV and, if needed, begin a treatment plan so you can live your healthiest life.