The medical community was taken by surprise last week when a doctor, Hannah Gay, and her colleagues claimed to have cured a toddler from a well-known virus called the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Within 30 hours of birth, the child was given a three-drug treatment consisting of antiretroviral drugs. The child, who is now two and a half years old, has been off of medication for one year without any signs of infection.
As if this wasn’t miraculous enough, a group of 14 adults came out claiming to have been cured of HIV as well. According to Newscientist.com, Pasteur Institute’s unit for retroviral infections experimented with 70 people who had HIV and treated them with antiretroviral drugs within 35 days to 10 weeks after infection. All of the 70 participants’ experiments were interrupted and most of the 70 people relapsed when their treatments were stopped. However, 14 participants, who took the drugs for about three years, were able to stay off of the drugs without relapsing. Although these adults still have small traces of HIV in their system, the levels are so low that their bodies can naturally keep themselves in check without drugs.
If this sounds too good to be true, it just might be the case.
“It seems more likely that her treatment prevented her, after exposure to HIV, from being infected,” explained Dr. Mark Siedner in a Wall Street Journal. Siedner is a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts’s General Hospital and the Harvard Medical School. He challenged the reports of the so-called “cure.” Siedner claimed that the drug treatment only prevented the toddler from being infected with the disease. Therefore, his argument is that the child was exposed to HIV and was never actually infected with the disease. He further explained that the reason that the medicine prevented the child from being infected with HIV is of the same reason that doctors normally give pregnant women and their infants medicines to lower the risk of HIV transmission from 30 percent to less than 1 percent in the most positive conditions.
The doctors can argue whether Gay’s “cure” should actually be called a “cure”; however, they can all unanimously agree that early prevention is necessary. This is especially true of people who put themselves in environments that allow for easier transmission of the disease. Likewise, some of these people who are exposed to this disease easily are medical employees who expose themselves to high-risk diseases, as well as people who are influenced by drugs using the same needles as those who are infected.
“If a student has had unprotected penile-vaginal or anal sex, had sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, has had a sexually transmitted infection, or has snorted or injected drugs, I would recommend testing. These activities put a person at higher risk of HIV exposure,” Health & Wellness educator Sydney Lott recommended.
University of California, Santa Barbara students who are aware that they have been in one of these conditions are suggested to get tested three to six months after exposure. If they are infected, it would still be an early detection of the disease.
“We would want to encourage students to test frequently and regularly because the sooner you find that you’re infected, the sooner you can start. You can begin taking these medicines that will prevent it from becoming such a serious disease [because] you know, when you get infected with HIV…you’re not necessarily at the end stages of the disease called AIDS [acquired immune deficiency syndrome], which can be fatal, so just the infection itself can be—we think it can be controlled with medicine, if you catch it early, so early detection is really important,” said Student Health Director Mary Elina Ferris, who is also a primary care physician.
UCSB offers HIV testing via blood testing for $12.65, plus a lab processing fee of $20, at the Student Health center. If the student has UC SHIP, the cost is free. This testing is done confidentially and accurately. Another option for students to receive testing is via the UCSB’s Health & Wellness Program.
“The Health & Wellness Program organizes free HIV testing every quarter thanks to the staff at Pacific Pride Foundation and a generous donation from the Associated Students Finance Board,” said Lott. “Each quarter, students can get tested anonymously at the Student Resources Building (SRB) in a process that only takes 20 minutes. This quarter’s testing event will be held on May 22.”
“HIV tests detect the presence of antibodies in the bloodstream, and since it takes a while for these antibodies to develop, it is actually best to get tested at least three months after potential exposure to the virus. Tests are about 95 percent accurate three months after exposure, and 99.9 percent accurate after six months,” explained Lott.
Although the medical community has been swept off its feet with a potential cure for the disease that was claimed to be “incurable” only a couple years ago, the surest way to “cure” HIV is definitely early testing and early medication, which would lead to early prevention. For more information on free HIV testing, contact the Health & Wellness Center at 805-893-2630.