A San Francisco clinic is taking extraordinary measures to treat patients with acute HIV infection immediately after diagnosis as in, the very same day they test positive. Just hours after results are revealed, the patient is started on HIV medications, aiming to improve overall health and prevent the spread of the disease in the body.
It has been projected the program could cut infection rates in half over the next three years, with a goal of eventually utilizing this process to eradicate the infection completely. The disease affects roughly 16,000 in San Francisco, with some 400 cases diagnosed each year. In the last ten years, patients were prescribed antiretroviral drugs only after their immune systems weakened, and the virus had taken a large toll on their bodies, killing a multitude of immune cells. With rapid treatment, in acute infections, health officials have seen a drop in viral load numbers in patients and an overall improvement of immune function.
Ideally, after a patient is diagnosed with acute HIV infection, the first dose of antiretroviral drugs is taken immediately in the clinic. Previously, it could take days, sometimes weeks, to get the first dose of treatment.
"Now we give them a cup of water and they literally take their first dose in front of me. I literally have a bag of drug regimens that are stored upstairs," Dr. Hiroyu Hatano told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Meanwhile, more testing and identifying those infected with HIV is half the battle in preventing transmission. And while the rates of those unaware of the infection is low in San Francisco (about 7 percent), it is much higher nationwide (40 percent nationally). One of the keys to markedly reducing the toll of HIV is to lower the number of those who are unaware they are infected.
ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom says, This is just more good news in the fight to stop the global AIDS epidemic. Studies, primarily in Africa, have shown that not only does antiretroviral therapy improve the health of patients taking the drugs, but the amount of virus in their bodies drops to such a low level that about 95 percent of the time HIV-positive males do not even infect HIV-negative female partners something unimaginable just ten years ago. The San Francisco initiative should provide similar results.