Yes, and there’s also $20 over-the-counter test for HIV that gives results in 20 minutes.
Two recent developments could make these conversations less awkward, or even render them moot. But they also raise troubling questions about promiscuity and responsibility that are reminiscent of debates from the 1980s.
The first development was the approval, last summer, by the Food and Drug Administration of an over-the-counter rapid-response at-home H.I.V. test kit. The test, called OraQuick and available nationwide since October, gives results 20 minutes after a cheek swab. The second is the increasing availability of PEP and of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.
PEP - the medication I am taking - has been called the H.I.V. morning-after pill, and PrEP, to follow the analogy, is akin to birth control. A study in the British medical journal The Lancet this month found that drug-injecting addicts who took PrEP were half as likely to become infected with H.I.V. as those who did not; other studies have shown that the drug reduces transmission of the virus from mother to child, and transmission among both gay men and heterosexuals.
A baby in Mississippi may have been cured of HIV by an early treatment of standard HIV drugs.
After starting on treatment, the baby’s immune system responded and tests showed diminishing levels of the virus until it was undetectable 29 days after birth. Ten months later, when the baby returned to the hospital (her mother stopped bringing her, without explanation) the researchers tested her again for HIV and found no sign of the virus. It appeared she had been functionally cured.
Because of the frequent testing and safety measures, adult film stars are perhaps the world’s safest community, STD-wise. No one in the industry has been infected with HIV since 2004. Porn star Stoya explains:
The production manager printed out a copy of each performer’s page in the APHSS database. I signed my own copy and James’s, indicating that my results were mine and accurate and that I had seen James’s and was comfortable working with him and his clean test which had been taken less than 14 days prior. He did the same. Then the production manager performed an inspection. He looked in our mouths, at both sides of our hands, and at our genitals to make sure there were no visible sores or open wounds. There was another paper to sign stating that we have no sores or open wounds on or in our mouths, hands, and genitals and had been inspected. We also looked at each others genitals, mostly for fun but if either of us had seen (or smelled) something odd we would have called off the scene ourselves.
According to his doctors, a Berlin man has been cured of HIV because of a stem cell transplant.
Doctors who carried out a stem cell transplant on an HIV-infected man with leukaemia in 2007 say they now believe the man to have been cured of HIV infection as a result of the treatment, which introduced stem cells which happened to be resistant to HIV infection.
The man received bone marrow from a donor who had natural resistance to HIV infection; this was due to a genetic profile which led to the CCR5 co-receptor being absent from his cells. The most common variety of HIV uses CCR5 as its ‘docking station’, attaching to it in order to enter and infect CD4 cells, and people with this mutation are almost completely protected against infection.
A new study suggests that HIV jumped from apes to humans around the turn of the 20th century, which coincides with the development of colonial cities in sub-Saharan Africa.
HIV was and remains a “relatively poorly transmitted” virus, he said, so the key to the success of the virus was possibly the development of cities such as Leopoldville in the early 1900s.
The large numbers of people living in close proximity would have allowed more opportunity for new infections.
“I think the picture that has emerged here, is that changes the human population experienced may have opened to the door to the spread of HIV,” he said.
Harm reduction programs, in which health workers work to reduce dangerous behaviors with both education and materials as near in time and space as possible to those behaviors, still get opposition in health departments. But for years we’ve known that teenagers who join abstinence-only programs are actually less likely to use condoms when they do have sex, and that they have STD rates nearly equal to teens who do not. Just last month, needle exchange was legalized in D.C., ludicrously late.
Yesterday afternoon, I talked to Joshua Volle. For the past few years he’s been the New York City Department of Health director of HIV community prevention programs; his last day at work was Friday. (We talked for a column I wrote for today’s New York Observer about the ongoing rise in new H.I.V. cases among young gay men, and it probably isn’t something most of you here want to read, as it is lewd, crude and sarcastic, so maybe don’t!) Volle, 50, left DPH largely because he has become a minister, but also: “I wasn’t in a place, in a position, where I could speak the truth that I know from my experience,” he said. “I was basically a bureaucrat middle manager, and that’s not my personality—nor is that why God sent me on this planet.”
There are still, Volle indicated, policy camps in conflict in the Health Department over HIV prevention policies. New York State has something called the Sanitary Code; in the City, it is still used to shutter gay sex establishments from which reports of unsafe sex are received. But in the rest of the state, closure is used as a threat—and establishments are not closed if such places work in cooperation with community-based organizations that promote safe sex on-site.
The City is now assessing its current policy, and is in receipt of recommendations from “a local alliance of health professionals, activists and club owners.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an incidence where a government has been able to control people’s behavior,” Volle said. He used Prohibition and drug laws as an example of how government crackdowns push people to the margins, away from the reach of harm reduction workers. Now, in New York City, private sex parties have become ever more difficult for health workers to find and enter. (Volle stressed that he was a fan of his former boss, Department of Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, and called him a smart man who obviously cared deeply about the health of New Yorkers.)
“We are still seeing an increase in HIV,” he said, “so if the Sanitary Code was actually working, wouldn’t we not be seeing that increase? If we try going in full force with our community partners, to do risk reduction, maybe we could get a handle on this epidemic. But we don’t know, because we’ve never been given a chance. “
“What we’d like to see is sex venues be kind of certified by the Department of Health, if they have these partnerships set up by community-based organizations,” he said. “And those that refuse? Guess what, you’re still out on a limb, you could be shut down, because the law is still on the record.”
People are going whole-hog bananas today over a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, in which gay men arriving at hospitals and clinics in San Francisco and Boston were showing high incidences of truly nasty drug-resistant staph infections. Let’s panic! After all, Matt Drudge is teasing the story with an invented quote: “STRAIN OF SUPERBUG ‘MAY BE NEW HIV’…” But that language doesn’t actually appear anywhere, much less in the Reuters summary to which he links; it does not even appear in this story that uses that phrase as a headline. Mmm, fake horror! The study began sampling patients four years ago. If this was the new super-plague, we’d all be neck-deep in boils already.