PORTLAND, OR -- Friday is World AIDS Day. An estimated 8,200 Oregonians are living with HIV and one in eight don't know they're infected. But new medications mean it’s no longer a fatal diagnosis.
"It’s not that it’s ever good to have HIV," says OHSU Nurse Practitioner Chris Fox, "But we have many, many treatment options available." Fox says pre-exposure prophylaxis - known as "PrEP" - can reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by 99%. And treatments for those with the virus can make it undetectable, "Once someone’s viral load is undetectable, then their immune system can repair itself," says Fox. And, those patients aren't likely to spread the virus, "Undetectable equals untransmittable."
Fox is now leading a two-year study of 125 patients using telemedicine for PrEP treatments, "It increases access and it reduces barriers to having to seek care either in your community, where you might not feel comfortable, or having to drive hours to see someone who you feel comfortable with and who offers the services." He says patients living with HIV or seeking prevention treatments in rural Oregon often face more barriers than those in urban areas. "Some of those barriers are related to lack of knowledge about these prevention or treatment options. Some of them are stigma - if your aunt’s best friend is the nurse at the clinic that you go to, you might not feel comfortable going there for your sexual health or HIV prevention needs taken care of." OHSU has provided virtual appointments for PrEP care since 2021. Click HERE for more information about the study, including how to sign up to participate.
A handful of people around the world have been cured of HIV, but Fox says that requires a bone marrow transplant, "And that’s like a 50/50 chance of survival to get one of those. So, those are reserved for people that need a bone marrow transplant for some other reason."
Fox tells the Oregon Radio News Network, "Ending the epidemic doesn’t mean that HIV does not exist anymore. But it means that we can get to a point where new infections are rare and everyone who does have an infection is treated."