The use of successful antiretroviral medicines in the 1990s was a game changer for HIV by reducing deaths. Now, it’s changing the game again. While the new med’s were originally developed to keep people living with HIV/AIDS healthier and alive longer- the new med’s are good enough to be used as a prevention method. Using treatment as a treatment is a key strategy to reducing HIV transmission worldwide. The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a National Institutes of Health study showing a 96% reduction in transmissions of HIV infection when people were started on antiretroviral medication soon after they were diagnosed (when compared with those who waited to start therapy until later).
The rationale is this: If you treat people early, with the right medications, their “viral load” stays low- or even becomes “undetectable”. The lower your viral load, the less likely you are to transmit the virus to someone else. It works the same way at the community level: As the number of people in a community living with HIV who get started on medication early rises, the overall community viral load decreases, resulting in less new HIV infections. Our HIV surveillance program is one of the top in the nation at identifying new (or incidence) cases and evaluating community viral load.
In Arizona, 593 new cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in 2011. Our HIV Prevention Office is working with stakeholders to encourage people to get tested so they “know their status” and can get linked in to early intervention services and started on treatment.