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Reasons For Optimism At Washington State HIV Conference In Spokane

Maryellen Cooley

HIV was once a death sentence for people who contracted the virus, but no more. In fact, many have lived with the virus for 35 years or longer. And there’s more to be optimistic about, as attendees at the Washington state HIV conference discussed Thursday and Friday in Spokane.

One of the biggest worries for people with HIV has been that they can pass on the illness to their intimate partners if they have sex with them. Now, HIV activists are rejoicing as word spreads about a relatively recent discovery in that area.

That discovery has been given a name, Undetectable equals Untransmittable. Bruce Richman is the founder of the U=U movement, as it’s known. He’s trying to get the word out about that.

“A person living with HIV who is on effective treatment has their viral load or the amount of virus in their blood reduced to levels that are so low they cannot be detected by tests in the body. That’s called undetectable. And when the virus is undetectable, it also means that a person can live a long and healthy life and they cannot transmit HIV sexually to their partners,” Richman said.

That was one of the reasons for optimism at the HIV conference.

Others revolved around treatment for the disease. Dr. Hillary Liss, an HIV specialist from Seattle, says HIV drugs and treatments have become more effective. She says patients are taking fewer drugs less often to keep their virus counts low. And she says doctors are changing their approach to treatment. Whereas they once waited, now they often begin prescribing drug regimens as soon as possible after a person receives a positive diagnosis.

Liss says the number of new people contracting HIV is steady or declining, both nationally and at the Washington state level. She says about 15% who have the virus don’t know it. So, she says, it’s important that people who engage in behavior that could lead to sharing the virus be tested regularly.

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