June 27th is National HIV Testing Day, an awareness campaign created in 1995 to promote testing as a useful method for controlling HIV. More than 1 million people in the US are living with HIV and the Center for Disease Control estimates 1 in 5 of those people are unaware that they are HIV+.
WHAT IS HIV?
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that infects the human immune system and compromises its ability to fight infection. If the virus infects too many immune system cells it can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and leave people prone to life-threatening infections. HIV is most commonly transmitted through having unprotected sex with someone who is HIV +, through sharing a needle with someone who is HIV +, during childbirth, or through breast-feeding.
CONNECTION TO GENETICS?
HIV/AIDS is not a genetic disease, but recent research has highlighted the importance of genetics in HIV/AIDS research. In 2007, Timothy Ray Brown was the first person cured of HIV. In addition to being HIV+, Timothy was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer that affects the blood cells. The treatment for his leukemia required a bone marrow transplant and the donor happened to carry a very rare genetic mutation that provides HIV resistance. This mutation (CCR5-delta32) is present in less than 1% of Caucasians and makes the immune system cells resistant to infection by HIV. This incredible medical accomplishment is too expensive to be considered as a standard cure for HIV/AIDS, but the case of Timothy Ray Brown has prompted new lines of research into the connection between genetics and HIV/AIDS.
TREATMENT & PREVENTION
The first step in HIV/AIDS treatment is knowing whether or not you are HIV+. Check out HIVtest.cdc.gov to find a place where you can get tested and help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. Even though there is no known cure for HIV/AIDS, it is very manageable if detected early. To learn more about treatment options and HIV/AIDS in general, you can visit AIDS.gov.