Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection affects about 33 million people worldwide. In the U.S., approximately 1.1 million residents are living with HIV that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). While HIV infection is serious, more aggressive and effective therapies have increased survival rates and quality of life significantly in the last two decades. But living with HIV still requires a lifetime commitment to health monitoring, medical testing and medication compliance.
Thanks to a new study, HIV patients may have one less chronic and potentially debilitating condition to worry about developing. Researchers found that HIV patients were 62 to 85 percent less likely to develop multiple sclerosis (MS), a degenerative nervous system disease, than the control group. According to observational research published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, this may be due to the HIV infection and/or its antiretroviral drug treatment suppressing the immune system constantly.
Studies Confirm Protective Link
After tracking a man whose MS symptoms disappeared for over 12 years following antiretroviral treatment for his HIV infection, Danish researchers conducted a drug study. Their results suggested that antiretroviral medications may treat or slow MS progression, but their numbers were too small to reach statistical significance. This effort prompted the current researchers to tackle a much larger comparative study. Between 1999 and 2011, they monitored 21,207 HIV-infected patients who received hospital treatment in England. Nearly 5.3 million people in the comparison group obtained medical care for minor conditions or injuries.
Then the researchers followed MS development in all participants for seven years. They compared the actual number of cases that arose with the amount they expected to occur in each population. Compared with people who didn’t have HIV, those who did were 62 percent less likely to develop MS, based on seven actual versus 18 forecasted MS diagnoses.
Even more encouraging, the longer that subjects had HIV, the less likely they were to develop MS. Compared to people in the general population, the risk of MS was 75 percent lower among those who had tested positive for HIV more than a year earlier. The researchers based this increased degree of protection on four actual diagnoses versus the 16 that they anticipated. After more than five years, the MS deterring factor increased to 85 percent, based on one actual versus 6.5 predicted cases.
The research team concluded that HIV infection may stave off the development of MS, or antiretroviral drugs that dampen down the proliferation of the virus may have the same effect on other viral agents that contribute to MS. These findings reinforce those of the original small Danish study but with the crucial difference that the new results are significant statistically. The research team believes that this discovery could have considerable implications in finding new MS treatment methods in the future.
HIV Medication Advancements
Two decades ago, a person who received an HIV infection diagnosis confronted the very real possibility of dying within a few years, if not sooner. The transformation of HIV from a terminal condition to a chronic and manageable ailment largely is thanks to increasingly effective antiretroviral therapy (ART). The active ingredients in medications like Truvada help fight HIV after exposure or attack the virus following infection.
Take your HIV medications exactly as your doctor directs. Altering your dosage and/or schedule may lower your CD4 cell level, making these immune system defenders less effective. This can increase your viral load, or virus level in your blood, reducing treatment efficacy.
HIV-positive people carry the virus in body fluids including blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. You can transmit the virus only if these HIV-infected fluids enter another person’s bloodstream. Direct entry can occur through:
The linings of the penis’ meatus or opening, vagina, rectum and mouth. The most common method of spreading HIV is unprotected vaginal or anal intercourse. Far fewer cases occur from oral sex, but oral/genital contact does pose an HIV infection risk.
Intravenous injection with a syringe. HIV can survive in drug injection equipment, supplies and other types of needles for a month or more. So you should never reuse or share legal or illegal drug injection needles or syringes. This precaution applies to body piercing and tattoo needles as well.
A cut, open sore, puncture wound or tear in the skin. This allows the virus to pass into the bloodstream.
Anyone with HIV, even without symptoms, can infect other people. New infections may cause mild, temporary flu-like symptoms immediately or persistently swollen glands. The only way to know HIV status is to have an HIV test.
Safe Practices for HIV
You can’t spread HIV through saliva, tears, sweat, vomit, urine and feces. It isn’t contagious via coughing or sneezing. Mosquitoes, fleas and other insects don’t transmit HIV. A household member, relative, coworker or friend can’t infect another by engaging in casual contact such as hugging and kissing or through everyday routines including sharing food, kitchen utensils and bathroom facilities.
Protect others by practicing safe sex and limiting your number of partners. When you use latex condoms properly every time you have sex, they’re close to 99 percent effective at preventing HIV transmission. Use dental dams, latex squares, for oral/genital and oral/anal sex. Use only water-based lubricants. Latex protection is virtually useless if you combine it with oil- or petroleum-based lubrication products. Also limit alcohol and recreational drug use, which can impair your judgment, to prevent HIV transmission.