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The science surrounding STD testing and treatment has progressed to a point where many diseases that were once thought to be incurable are now able to be controlled and prevented. This is particularly the case with HIV. While the disease was once thought to be an absolute death sentence, people are now living much longer, healthier lives after becoming infected.
However, challenges still persist. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1.2 million people in the U.S. are infected with HIV, but about one-fifth of these individuals are unaware that they are carrying the disease because they have not sought the appropriate lab test.
Individuals who do not know they are infected face two major risks. First, they are likely to continue spreading the disease to others, as they are less likely to curtail their risky sexual behavior. Second, they will not receive the proper treatments.
HIV can be controlled and stopped from progressing to more advanced stages through antiretroviral therapy. But these medications are only effective if a person with HIV knows they are infected and talks to their doctor about therapies. However, due to relatively low blood testing rates, many infected individuals do not know about their disease, and only about 28 percent of individuals with HIV are receiving the treatment they need.
What can be done?
The CDC says that, first of all, anyone who is at risk for the disease should talk to their doctor about HIV testing. This includes just about anyone who has had unprotected sex with a person whose HIV status they are not 100 percent sure of. Additionally, men who have sex with men and injection-drug users are at high risk.
Once a diagnosis has been made, there are effective treatments available. Antiretroviral drugs can stop the infection from destroying the immune system, which is one of the primary concerns with HIV. The earlier these medications are started, the more effective they can be. When the HIV virus has damaged the immune system significantly there may be little to save, but if it is still functioning at a high level these drugs can keep it there for many years.
When a person takes antiretroviral drugs they will have better health, a longer life, fewer infections and help stop the spread of the infection, according to the CDC. Connecting infected individuals to these therapies is the most important part of slowing infection rates.
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