Category Archives: Features

PBS airs series The End of AIDS: Far from Over

PBS NewsHour is airing a series called The End of AIDS: Far from Over from correspondent William Brangham and producer Jason Kane. The five reports describe why, despite major advances in the treatment of HIV and AIDS, places such as Russia, Nigeria and Florida are still struggling to contain the virus.

While the series explores some of the impediments to successful treatment in these places, it also shows promising developments — like several Russians who are promoting treatment and battling discrimination in their communities.

TV Rain news anchor Pavel Lobkov, who went public with his HIV-positive status three years ago, became one of the only public figures in Russia to disclose their status. Lobkov said he wanted to show people that one can live a healthy life with HIV treatment.

Tatiana Vinogradova, deputy director of the St. Petersburg AIDS center, and her husband Andrei Skvortsov, who is living with the virus, appeared in a public ad campaign that says “People with HIV are just like you and me.”

And Alexander Chebin runs an informal network of activists in Russia collecting antiretroviral drugs and mailing them for free to HIV-positive people throughout Russia who can’t otherwise access them.

Here is a look at other efforts that are exploring new treatments or trying to lift the stigma around HIV and AIDS.

These gay men have spent 30 years learning how to be long-term HIV survivors

From the Huffington Post

Sean McKenna, 55, was diagnosed with HIV in 1992. He takes 22 pills a day and deals with diarrhea, joint pain and HPV. He’s been on disability, unable to work, for over 20 years. Luigi Ferrer, 59, has been HIV-positive since 1985, but he works full time and takes only one pill a day. McKenna has survived bouts of pneumocystis pneumonia and other HIV-related complications that have killed many of his peers. Ferrer has never had a life-threatening complication. Scott Kramer, 50, was diagnosed in 1988. He survived a bout of PCP in 1992 but was able to return to work full time.

“There’s no one way to be a long-term HIV survivor,” said Kramer, a therapist who specializes in people with HIV and runs support groups in New York City for gay men with the virus. “We’ve all been through trauma, but with a mix of support and luck, we’ve survived longer than we ever imagined.”

Sean McKenna shortly after learning he was HIV-positive in 1992.

Long-term HIV survivors ― generally defined as those diagnosed before lifesaving drugs were released in 1996 ― face their own set of physical and emotional challenges as they age. Some were lucky to have relatively mild bodily symptoms. Others became isolated by illness, stigma and the inability to work. But all dealt with a terrifying diagnosis at a time when doctors had little to offer.

In recent years, a few survivors have emerged to speak up for their peers, whose lives and stories they say are unappreciated or forgotten by today’s gay community.

Read the full article.

By 2030, top cancers among people with HIV expected to be prostate and lung

From POZ Magazine online

By 2030, the most common cancers among people with HIV are projected to be prostate and lung cancer.

Publishing their findings in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed data from the National Cancer Institute’s HIV/AIDS Cancer Match study, modeling cancer diagnosis rates during 2000 to 2012 to make projections about how rates will change from 2013 to 2030.

The U.S. HIV population is steadily aging, thanks to effective antiretroviral treatment. In 2006, an estimated 27 percent of the population was age 50 or older, a proportion that increased to 45 percent in 2014. Between 2010 and 2030, the proportion of the population age 65 and older is expected to increase from 8.5 percent to 21.4 percent, while the proportion that is age 45 to 64 is expected to increase from 39.4 percent to 47.7 percent.

Between 2000 and 2012, the 463,300 HIV-positive adults in the HIV/AIDS Cancer Match Study were diagnosed with 23,907 cancers. During this period, the annual diagnosis rates (known as incidence) declined for Kaposi sarcoma (KS), non–Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), cervical cancer, anal cancer (among men who have sex with men), lung cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers among all age types. Colon cancer incidence decreased among those age 65 and older. Meanwhile, prostate cancer incidence increased among men ages 35 to 64.

Overall, cancer incidence among the U.S. HIV population is expected to decline through the next decade.

Among three AIDS-defining cancers, the estimated numbers of diagnoses seen in the U.S. HIV population in 2010 and projected to occur in 2020 and 2030, respectively, according to the study authors’ analysis were: 8,150, 7,490 and 6,690 diagnoses of NHL; 1,490, 750 and 450 diagnoses of KS; and 120, 50 and 30 diagnoses of cervical cancer.

As for non-AIDS-defining cancers, the respective numbers of diagnoses seen in 2010 and projected to occur in 2020 and 2030 were: 5,420, 6,150 and 5,980 diagnoses of lung cancer; 830, 910 and 1,030 diagnoses of prostate cancer; 750, 1,340, 1,590 diagnoses of anal cancer; 360, 460 and 480 diagnoses of liver cancer; 300, 200 and 120 diagnoses of Hodgkin lymphoma; 250, 320 and 340 diagnoses of oral cavity/pharyngeal cancer; 220, 260 and 260 diagnoses of breast cancer; 220, 230 and 200 diagnoses of colon cancer; and 1,910, 1,880 and 1,510 diagnoses of other types of cancers.

The study authors concluded that their findings stress the importance of expanding access to HIV treatment and cancer prevention, screening and treatment.

To read a press release about the study, click here.

To read the study abstract, click here.

HIV damages the Brain, but treatment halts progression

From Poz Magazine

Not long after an individual contracts HIV, the virus penetrates the brain and begins to cause progressive damage to the volume of the organ as well as cortical thickness. Antiretroviral (ARV) treatment apparently halts this progression and is able to dial back some of the damage.

Publishing their findings in Clinical Infectious Diseases, researchers studied 65 people who entered the study soon after they contracted HIV, in a period known as primary HIV infection. These participants, 30 of whom started ARV treatment during the study, received multiple MRIs of their brains over time.

The researchers compared the brain scans of the participants with scans of 16 people with long-term, or chronic, HIV infection as well as 19 HIV-negative individuals.

The study authors found that before participants began ARV treatment, a longer time spent with untreated HIV was associated with loss in volume in various parts of the brain, including the thalamus, caudate and cerebellum. More time living with untreated HIV was also linked with cortical thinning in the frontal and temporal lobes and the cingulate cortex.

After individuals started ARVs, the progression of such brain damage stopped, and there were some small increases in cortical thickness measures.

“We knew HIV could cause neurological damage, but we did not know it happened so early in the infection,” Serena Spudich, MD, MA, a professor of neurology at Yale and a co–senior author of the paper, said in a press release. “The findings emphasize the importance of identifying infected people early and treating them so we can halt its progression.”

To read a press release about the study, click here.

To read the study abstract, click here.

HIV-infected people are living for years, but age-related diseases set in early

From the Washington Post

David Hardy has been treating HIV-infected patients since the early 1980s, when the epidemic began. In those days, people newly diagnosed with AIDS lived for only about six months. Hardy, an infectious-disease specialist and internist, was ecstatic when powerful new drug combinations came into widespread use in 1996, enabling HIV-infected people to measure their lives in decades rather than months. But in recent years, his euphoria has turned bittersweet.

“Most people assume that the medicines have worked and that everything has gone back to normal, and that’s not really true,” says Hardy, who directs research for Whitman-Walker Health in Washington and who still sees patients weekly. “While we have suppressed HIV very well, we’ve now discovered that the medicines only treat part of the problem.”

Many HIV-infected people, now in their 50s and 60s, who have lived for years with HIV under control, are developing aging-related conditions — heart, liver and kidney disease, certain cancers and frailty, for example — at a rate significantly higher than uninfected people of the same age. “These are things that people develop all the time as they get old, but they are occurring at an earlier age in HIV-positive people,” Hardy says.

Read the full article.

Lower prevalence of HIV testing among sexually active older adults

From MD Magazine online

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults are increasingly affected by HIV infections, as they constitute 17% of new diagnoses, 45% of adult persons living with HIV (PLWH) in the US, and 39% of HIV-related deaths in the US.

Although the prevalence of HIV infection among old adults is increasing worldwide, a recent study in the US suggests that only about a quarter of older adults have been tested for HIV. As a result of less aggressive testing in this patient population, older adults tend to be diagnosed with HIV at a later stage in the disease.

Emeka Oraka, MPH, a senior health research analyst at ICF International in Atlanta, GA, recently led an investigation into the prevalence of HIV testing among older adults and the characteristics of patients being tested. For this study, Oraka and colleagues utilized the General Social Survey (GSS), a biennial survey conducted among the civilian, noninstitutionalized population in the US that collects data on demographics, sexual behaviors and HIV-related behaviors.

Read the full article.

Diabetes rates are rising fast among people with HIV

From Poz Magazine

People with HIV are increasingly developing prediabetes and diabetes, Infectious Disease Advisor reports. While living longer thanks to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment may play a role in this population’s development of such aging-related conditions, the toxicities of ARVs may also raise their risk.

Publishing their findings in Epidemiology, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 44 studies published between 2000 and 2017 that included estimates of the annual rate of diagnosis, or incidence, of prediabetes and diabetes among individuals who had been exposed to ARV treatment.

Overall, the annual diagnosis rate was 125 cases of prediabetes and 13.7 cases of diabetes per cumulative 1,000 years of follow-up. These two estimates were based on 396,496 and 1,532 cumulative years of follow-up, respectively.

The researchers found that, over time, the annual diagnosis rate for these conditions increased quickly.

Major risk factors for developing either condition included aging, having family history of diabetes, being Black or Latino, being overweight or obese, having central obesity (weight around the abdomen, or a “beer gut”), having lipodystrophy or lipoatrophy (abnormal distribution of fat on the body and face, which is associated with some of the earliest ARVs), having metabolic syndrome (a collection of symptoms, including abnormal cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar, central obesity, and high blood pressure), having a higher initial fasting glucose test result and taking certain ARV regimens.

On the bright side, it is possible that given the lower toxicity of today’s preferred ARV regimens, the incidence of prediabetes and diabetes may ultimately decline.

The researchers stressed that more research is necessary to “better capture the interplay” between the two health conditions and ARV treatment.

To read the Infectious Disease Advisor article, click here.

To read the study abstract, click here.