Posts tagged HIV education

HIV and Stroke Are Linked – Long-Term Treatment Reduces Risk

HIV has long been connected with certain secondary conditions and complications. With treatment, some can be managed, and risks can be reduced. One surprising study has revealed a strong link between HIV and stroke. It had been noticed that the number of young individuals presenting with a stroke were HIV-positive. New studies have found definite ties between the two conditions.

The trend has been noted especially across much of the southern portion of Africa.

  • Young adults reporting stroke had no history to suggest risk.
  • For example, few had a history of high blood pressure, were obese, smoked, or had diabetes.
  • Researchers found that in one study, almost half of the participants who had strokes were HIV positive.
  • These individuals were all under 45 years old.
  • Consistent with what was being seen, these patients also had no previous history that would suggest a high risk of stroke.

Another interesting piece of information that had been uncovered during the ongoing study was that those who had just started therapy for HIV had the highest risk of stroke. The risk declined after six months of treatment. Those who had been on the antiretroviral therapies for a while had a much lower risk of stroke. Medical personnel are eager to learn what the specific link is between the virus and stroke. Particularly alarming is the high risk during the first stages of the therapy.

What Does the HIV and Stroke Link Mean Globally?

While these findings were uncovered on the African continent, the link between HIV and stroke is definite. The findings here will have tremendous effects globally when it comes to HIV and its treatment.

There is clear evidence that continued treatment not only maintains health and controls the HIV infection, but also greatly reduces stroke risk. Bridging the gap between the starting point and less risk is now the main focus. Continued investigation is necessary at this juncture to find answers, and then come up with ways to protect patients until they are out of the high-risk category.

How HIV Affects the Brain

HIV infection is known to cause several side effects as it invades the body. Because of advances in medicine, along with our overall understanding of what HIV is and how the virus works inside the human body, we have been able to prolong the side effects that was so disastrously prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s: death due to a completely compromised immune system. As we are now able to keep the virus essentially ineffective, even though we are still not able to eradicate it from the body, infected individuals are now able to live much longer than before, and many die of other natural causes before they develop AIDS from their HIV infection. With people now living longer than they were able to before, researchers have noticed slow-showing side effects that an elongated HIV infection can cause. One of the more feared, as well as least understood, side effects of HIV is its negative effects on a person’s mental abilities. To learn how HIV affects the brain, researchers out of Washington University in St. Louis have looked at one of the two leading theories on the subject.

The two leading theories on how HIV affects the brain are: 1) the early immune system’s responses to the infection which triggers a series of effects that slowly impair memory and mental function; 2) how the disease and co-infections commonly seen with HIV affect the brain independently of the HIV infection. The research team decided to focus on the co-infection theory, as they saw ways to judge whether these infections were indeed affecting the brain instead of HIV itself. Through statistical elimination, they determined the only co-infection which is common enough to affect so many HIV-infected individuals is hepatitis C. So, they looked at the effects of hepatitis C and the possibilities it has in affecting a brain when it is co-infected along with HIV. Knowing that this virus predominately attacks the liver led researcher David Clifford, MD, to rule out this theory, because he believes hepatitis C does not affect the brain in any directly negative manner. The study included almost 1,600 HIV infected individuals who roughly 400 were co-infected with hepatitis C. These patients were given two exams – one written and one physical – to determine any differences they may have in their cognitive and mental abilities. The exams looked at how the patients expressed themselves, made decisions, learned and retained new information, and controlled their body. The results were that there was no distinction between those co-infected with hepatitis C and those who were only infected with HIV. This lack of distinction was made even more impressive, according to Clifford, because those who were co-infected with hepatitis C were almost all older, had less of an education, and generally had lower reading and math scores than the others. They now feel the leading theory – that the immune system’s initial reactions of inflammation of the bowels and brain – is the correct one, and are working to prove this.

Spike in HIV

Spike in HIV: Testing Climbs Because of Face-to-Face Social Networking

One of the biggest concerns in the battle against the spread of HIV is not being aware that one is infected. This is the leading reason for HIV’s continuing spread in developed countries, like the United States of America. In fact, as many as one in five people who are infected with HIV are asymptomatic and completely unaware of the infection. Because of this, they usually continue in the high-risk activities that exposed them to HIV in the first place (i.e. men who have sex with men, sharing drug utensils, etc). Traditional counseling, training, and referral (CTR), are the current mainstream programs designed to spread awareness of HIV and prompt people to get tested. However, these usually yield minimal results (less than one percent of those tested in this manner are shown to be HIV positive). A new form of face-to-face social networking, however, has resulted in a spike in HIV among high-risk individuals. That is, more HIV infected individuals have been found, not that HIV has actually increased in the populations at the highest risk of contracting the disease. What has been behind this success in finding HIV-positive individuals?

Social network strategies (SNS) programs, focusing on high-risk environments that encourage people to refer their friends and acquaintances (with a small monetary reward for each tested referral), has yielded a roughly 2.5 percent increase in positive tests. These programs proactively find high-risk environments and the people within them, as opposed to the CTR programs, which passively foster testing. SNS programs actively prompts those with HIV-positive and unaffected alike to recruit others they know to be involved in the various high-risk activities commonly associated with HIV infection. Of course, some worry about the cost of rewarding individuals for ever reference that gets tested. Indeed, there has been a minimal amount of “abuse” of gaining a monetary reward for each tested referral (roughly $10-20 per tested referral). However, others feel that the spike in HIV found among high-risk people is worth this price, and that it will be more cost effective overall. For example, a study of SNS programs and testing methods illustrates that the 30th or 40th person referred for testing through SNS had just as high (if not a higher) probability of being HIV positive, as did the first five or ten people referred in this manner. Certainly, more people being aware of being HIV positive, and at an earlier stage of the infection, means more are able to seek earlier treatment. Indeed, it is very important for HIV infected patients to get onto the life-saving anti-retroviral regimen as early as possible. Doing so will suppress the virus and prevent the progression to AIDS.

Life After AIDS

Life After AIDS: A Realistic Timetable

Up until 2001 and the advent of antiretroviral (ART) medications, HIV and AIDS was considered an epidemic, with death almost a certainty. Or, at least this was the case for those who were not wealthy or heavily covered by health insurance. AZT, the first popular antiretroviral drug, was extremely expensive. It was also only available in limited quantities, as manufacturers strained to produce enough of the drug for the needs of the worldwide population. This has all changed. Because of new research, a greater awareness of HIV, and insight into what the virus is and how it works, many scientists and doctors are reasonably hopeful in a future life after AIDS. In fact, some are even creating realistic timetables as to when this could be realized.

There is still no known cure for HIV infection. It is this virus – when left untreated – that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). There are several drugs available today, however, which can either deactivate HIV cells or kill them outright. Through a regimen of these drugs, a person can survive with HIV for many years, even decades, without ever developing AIDS.

Moreover, this new phase of research into anti-HIV medications has resulted in an outpouring of education and understanding about the virus and disease. Certainly, the stigmas that were once attached to AIDS in the 1980’s have lessened. Because of the new treatments and changing attitudes, many have come forward to be tested who, in the past, might have assumed they would die and didn’t come forward for treatment to avoid the ‘shame’ of being HIV positive. Thanks to this domino effect of research and awareness the number of deaths from AIDS, although still unacceptably high, has been drastically reduced to 3 million per year. It has also led to fewer new infections from HIV, which numbers around 3.5 million per year.

In impoverished countries, those without adequate access to drug therapies, medical facilities, and proper HIV education, the number of deaths to AIDS along with new cases of HIV is still on the rise. This is the biggest hurdle to achieving the lofty goal of a life after AIDS. Even so, with the dramatic results in the past 13 years in countries like the United States, many are hopeful that by the later end of the 21st century, it is possible there will be no new infections. This will only happen when drugs have advanced to the point that they can completely sterilize the virus and when said drugs are accessible to everyone in the world.

Importance of Early HIV Infection Detection

The war on HIV rages on. While medical advancements in treatment and therapy have shown progress, there are still areas that need attention. Recent studies still show that a high percentage of Europeans infected with HIV are receiving or entering into treatment at later stages. Countries throughout the continent are still showing late detection for those with HIV. Worrisome findings reveal that many who were finally tested for the virus developed AIDS within only a few months after diagnosis. This emphasizes the need for earlier detection.

Overall, the numbers show a decrease in late detection for Europe. The increase seems to be in certain target groups and in certain regions. For example, the number of drug users (injection drugs) who presented with late detection of HIV has steadily increased. Certain countries are particularly vulnerable to this rise in numbers at present. The threat goes beyond that to the infirmed. Communities are now at risk as spreading the virus can happen unbeknownst to either party involved. An increased focus at early testing and prompt entry into treatment are highly recommended. Education and readily available programs should be implemented.

One reason these findings should motivate action is that those who remain untreated or even undiagnosed find themselves worse off health-wise in the long run. Along with this, the likelihood of spreading the disease increases greatly. While medication and therapies cannot yet cure HIV, they do have benefits. For one thing, antiretrovirals help reduce the amount of the virus carried, thus aiding in the prevention of spreading the infection. Patients receiving early treatments tend to be healthier and fare better. These positive results give birth to hope.

The battle goes on against HIV/AIDS. Education targeting the groups most at risk is imperative. Making sure proper steps are taken in a timely fashion to ensure immediate treatment after diagnosis is another area needing some attention. Through education and awareness, the population can protect against, treat and heal from the effects of HIV.


Go to Top