On December 2, 2014, the world took note of the 26th World AIDS Day. HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is something I’ve known about for decades. I remember watching videos about the virus in sex education class. (AKA, it’s always been one of the “diseases” bad educators have used to scare kids out of having sex.) Luckily, HIV education is evolving and AIDS awareness has improved greatly since the late '80s and early '90s.
People no longer talk about HIV with hushed voices, and a greater portion of the public is educated about the virus: No, you can’t get HIV from utensils, or touching. And no – sex isn’t the only thing that transmits the virus. Also: Yes – straight, white people, who live all over the world, can get the virus, too. HIV doesn’t discriminate.
Luckily, the international conversation about HIV and HIV education has become more open and inclusive. And the public has learned more about the virus, too. Over the past month, many news sites published articles about how HIV is evolving, how society is handling the disease, and how certain segments of the population who have HIV and AIDS, are coping. We’ve rounded up a few of the topics covered in recent articles that discuss the virus' evolution in educational, enlightening ways.
Philip Goulder, virologist, and his team at the University of Oxford, recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that “over a 10-year period, HIV has picked up mutations that make it slightly less virulent in parts of southern Africa.” The team’s findings show that it could take some people longer to develop AIDS if they aren’t getting regular HIV treatment -- this is an incredibly interesting development. The virus’ mutations can push back the “average time to develop AIDS in Botswana from about 10 years to about 12.5 years,” Goulder says.
HIV is adept at evolving. The virus can quickly and easily mutate to overcome a person’s immune system. However, as the BBC reports, some people’s immune systems are stronger than others:
"...the virus is trapped between a rock and hard place, it can get flattened or make a change to survive and if it has to change then it will come with a cost." -- Goulder
This research also may help scientists who are trying to create an HIV vaccine because the study expands the understanding of “what’s required to control HIV.”
If this "trend" continues, it could have a “massive” impact on the virus and its transmission. But for now, HIV is still dangerous and deadly.
A Snapshot of Women Living with HIV, AIDS, via Refinery29 and the Hairpin
Refinery29 recently published a beautiful series about women who are living with HIV, AIDS. Each woman contracted the disease in a unique way, and all of their stories are eye opening: One woman got the virus from her undiagnosed mother. Another got it from her rapist.
New Ways to Prevent Infection, via NPR
It’s no surprise that 84 percent of women who are diagnosed with HIV in the United States get the virus through heterosexual sex. Also: It’s not shocking that worldwide, “women constitute more than half of all people living with HIV,” and that “for women in their reproductive years (ages 15–49), HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death.”
Seeing those statistics leads one to think that women need more options when it comes to preventing HIV infection. (Note: Condoms can greatly reduce HIV transmission, but often times women lack control over condom use.) Luckily, new research is helping scientists develop innovative HIV prevention tools.
One invention that’s received news recently is an electrically spun fabric that could deliver anti-HIV drugs to a woman’s vaginal tissue. Bioengineers Cameron Ball and Kim Woodrow explain:
“High concentrations of the microbicide can be interwoven into the fabric, and the material dissolves quickly when it gets wet. So the vaginal tissue is infused with the microbicide within six minutes.”
The fabric is flexible and can be easily shaped. It could be folded “into a torpedo-like shape” and placed inside a tampon applicator, reports NPR.
The final product is years away, but the research looks promising.
Another story about HIV, AIDS stigma that recently was in news concerned gay men. Men cannot donate blood if they’ve had sex with another man. To read more about the evolution and the future of this ban (some restrictions have recently been lifted), visit the New York Times’ blog, “Most Gay Men Still Excluded From Giving Blood.”
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Image: Jon Rawlinson