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Lab testing is the only way to determine whether someone has HIV. If everyone in the U.S. got a lab test, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 50,000 people would find out that they are positive for the virus.
HIV patients may be able to prolong their lives if they follow a physician-prescribed treatment regimen. However, a new study from the University of Missouri found that nearly half of people living with the disease either do not get medical help or fail to adhere to their treatment plan. The university tested a new method of intervention - one that involves fellow HIV patients rather than just doctors and nurses.
"Being 'peered' is different from being doctored, nursed or counseled," said Maithe Enriquez, the creator of the program. "The peer educators in the intervention also have HIV, which gives them insider perspectives."
Enriquez went on to note that she believes it was the meaningful connections made between those living with HIV that made the treatment program effective. The peer educators talked with patients to identify factors that cause them to miss appointments and avoid medications. Together they set goals and came up with techniques to help them better stick to treatment plans.
When the researchers surveyed the peer educators, they found that the volunteers viewed their role in the program as more that just teachers. They also felt as though they were becoming role models, advocates, motivational sources as well as educational resources to the patients.
"The encouraging thing about HIV care is that patients can remain healthy if they are engaged in their care, and their viral loads decrease, which makes them less likely to spread the virus to others," noted Enriquez.
She went on to say that HIV is not a death sentence, so long as treatment plans are followed.
The consequences of HIV
The CDC reported that approximately 1.1 million people in the nation are living with HIV. Luckily, with better treatment, HIV patients can have a higher standard of living than they did in the past. It is important for people living with the virus to tell their sexual partners about their infection. In order to avoid spreading the disease, affected individuals should use condoms correctly when engaging in intercourse, and if the partner is not HIV-positive, then he or she should receive lab tests frequently to check his or her status.
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