Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day, developed by the United Nations to bring continued attention to the condition and its effects, and continued work for a cure. World AIDS Day is devoted to educating people about issues surrounding AIDS and HIV in the hopes of reducing transmission rates and possibly eliminating the disease entirely. In fact, leading AIDS activism organization says the world has reached a tipping pint, the beginning of the end of the disease. With fewer people becoming infected with the virus, they say, it is possible that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the pandemic.
Although the number of new AIDS cases has been declining, the disease is still dangerous. That’s why research into treatments and cures and efforts to eradicate the disease continue apace, to help the one in seven people living with HIV, and the nearly 30,000 people each year who develop full-blown AIDS. Too many people, encouraged by the declining number of cases, overlook the threat the virus still poses; HIV-positive people, hearing of the successes in treatment, minimize the threat of seroconversion. However, therapies that prevent people from acquiring HIV, or prevent HIV from become AIDS, are becoming more available.
In particular, researchers have found that treatment started immediately—before the virus has begun to affect the immune system, destroying it to protect itself—can prevent HIV and prevent it from developing into AIDS. Antiretroviral therapy, or ART, begun within the first 12 months after infection is likely to result in normal levels of the immune cells, called T-cells, most affected by the virus, and can even prevent the patient from passing the infection on to partners. In addition, people who started ART in the first year have half the chance of developing AIDS and a better immune response all around.
Thanks in part to these and other treatments, and to better education on the disease, more people are living longer even after being infected with HIV. In fact, HIV-positive patients are showing similar longevity to their HIV-negative counterparts, with most other illnesses appearing at roughly the same rates in both groups.