Ask Adelle: I Should Tell You—PrEP and HIV/AIDS
Adelle Zocher – Special to the Southern News
Readers, here we are at last— April, our last full month of classes. I hope you have all been taking care of yourselves and utilizing the many services available here on campus to keep you healthy, happy and successful. This week’s topic is pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, a course of drugs which, if taken correctly, can effectively prevent the transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). At Southern, Health Services can prescribe PrEP, helping you to stay as safe as possible if you choose to have sex and believe you may be at risk for contracting HIV.
Some of you may have seen the 2005 film adaption of the Broadway musical “RENT.” The movie is set in New York City’s East Village in the late 1980s and follows the lives of a group of friends, some of whom are struggling with HIV/AIDS. If you have not seen the film, I highly recommend it, for the music, the message of love and acceptance and the spotlight on a disease that still faces a terrible stigma despite our knowledge and understanding of the virus. The film features a song called “I Should Tell You.” in which one of the characters wrestles with revealing his status to a potential love interest. As the song ends, it is revealed that both partners are infected with HIV and decide to move forward with their relationship. Honesty is a best practice for safe sex— knowing your status and communicating with your partner is critical.
In the eighties, HIV/AIDS was a death sentence— though treatment with antiretroviral drugs slowed the progression of the disease, ultimately those infected would succumb to it. Years later, though there is still no cure for HIV/AIDS, those infected can live a normal, healthy and long life due to advances in medical technology. HIV attacks the immune system, specifically the T cells and as the virus progresses and destroys more T cells it is harder for the body to fight off infection. If the amount of T cells in the body gets too low, opportunistic infections and cancers take advantage of the person’s weak immune system, at which point the disease has advanced to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
PrEP is a course of drugs that prevent the transmission of the virus. Of course, anyone engaging in sexual activity should take proper precautions for staying STD free, beginning with open communication with your partner. Condom use is always ideal, even if you are using another form of birth control. PrEP is not meant to be used as an excuse for engaging in risky behaviors, but as a harm reduction tool.
If you or your partner is infected with HIV, you can still enjoy a safe and healthy sexual relationship. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) helps those infected with HIV to effectively decrease their viral load, or the amount of HIV in a sample of their blood, to the point of being undetected. This does not mean a person is cured of the virus but by diligently taking a combination of antiretroviral drugs, they can remain as healthy as an individual without the disease. Strictly adhering to one’s course of treatment is critical if an individual is to prevent the progression of the disease.
Also, get yourself tested. You are probably sick of hearing me say it, but I cannot emphasize its importance enough. HIV may cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills and fatigue within two to four weeks of infection, but often times can be entirely asymptomatic. The virus may not be detectable in the body for a few weeks after transmission, as it has not yet developed antibodies to the virus. Some people go years without any symptoms, so the only way to know for sure is to get yourself tested.
Dr. Diane Morgenthaler, Director of Health Services wants you to know that Health Services offers free HIV testing and counseling by appointment which can either be scheduled on the HS website— firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (203) 392-6300. Please feel free to contact Health Services for any questions related to these or other medical concerns. Health services can provide you a prescription for PrEP, the cost of which depends on your insurance. If the cost is preventing you from accessing PrEP, the AIDS Project New Haven can provide you with the services and work with your financial situation. Visit http://prepnav.org/getting-prep for more information.
If you or someone close to you is infected with HIV, do not panic. HIV can be transmitted through sex, intravenous drug use, during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding, and in rare cases through contact with infected bodily fluids. Because it is often asymptomatic, there is no way to tell if someone is infected— it can affect people of any age, gender, race or sexual orientation. Getting tested and communicating with your partner is the best way to stay safe and healthy.
Remember, Wellness is always here in Schwartz 100 if you need us. Stay safe, be well, and take good care!
Photo Credit: Jessica Roginski