HIV is a disease that has evolved during our lifetime. As a clinician, during my years of training I saw men and women present to the Jackson Memorial Hospital emergency room with a strange overwhelming lung infection and a shutdown of the body’s immune response to infection. Even with aggressive treatment they failed and succumbed to the disease quickly. We had no idea what the process was back in the early 1970’s and were privileged to be around to see pioneers like Margaret Fischl, MD at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, begin to take on this dreaded disease in a population no one else would care for.
Hard work and millions of dollars in expense for research coupled with courageous patients has led to announcements like the one released by Michael Martin , MD of the Center for Disease Control that a drug called tenofovir, administered to high risk intravenous narcotic users, significantly reduced the risk of catching the disease. One pill a day In the 2400 volunteers, from 17 drug treatment centers in Thailand, taking one dose of tenofovir per day reduced the risk by almost half. The results were so striking amongst IV drug users that the author recommended beginning a once a day tenofovir program as a pre-exposure prophylaxis in all the high risk groups. He defined the high risk groups as men who have sex with men, heterosexual individuals and heterosexual couples where one person is HIV positive and the other HIV negative. The drug was surprisingly well tolerated with only 8% of the patients experiencing episodes of nausea.
The purpose of discussing this article is to fan the hope among all individuals, providers and citizens, who have seen the ravages of this disease and did not believe a treatment, prevention or cure would occur in our lifetime. The presence of newer medications for prevention should not allow any of us to let our guard down and eliminate using the tried and true methods that prevent transmission of the disease. Practicing safe sex by using condoms, avoiding sharing needles when injecting medication and being aware that when you are sexually active you are exposing yourself to your partner’s entire sexual past history will still need to be the cornerstone of prevention.
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