WHEELING- Treatment of HIV and some other sexually transmitted diseases is much more simple than it was 30 years ago when the AIDS Task Force of the Upper Ohio Valley was founded, according to task force HIV Care Coordinator Jay Adams.
But that does not mean people should take HIV or any other disease lightly, he said, or ignore basic preventive methods.
"The overall rate of infection has remained fairly stable," Adams said. "That doesn't mean it doesn't damage organs."
Photos by Daniel Dorsch
HIV Care Coordinator Jay Adams displays some of the supplies offered by the AIDS Task Force of the Upper Ohio Valley. They include educational literature about sexually-transmitted diseases, condoms and an HIV test.
The AIDS Task Force of the Upper Ohio Valley was founded in 1987 to help stem the rate of infection in the area. After more than 25 years, Adams said the rate of infection has decreased in the Ohio Valley, partly because of the program's medical case management, core medical services and limited support services offered to those who may be infected. One of the most convenient services is free HIV testing, which can produce results in about 20 minutes.
Locally and nationwide, Adams said HIV is much easier to treat now.
"Medications have become as simple as one pill a day," Adams said. "The regimens have become much more simple and it seems like it's not as big a deal. It's a much different reaction. What people have forgotten are the ramifications. You still have to live with the stigma, side effects and treatment. Those infected are also required to notify partners for the rest of their lives."
While failing to use protection in sexual activity is one major cause for infection, Adams said the other threat is psychological.
"People either believe the disease has been cured, is no big deal or is just not a serious disease any more," Adams said. "It's a false sense of safety."
Even the new treatments can pose a danger in prevention, Adams said, since physical signs of infection are no longer as obvious.
"Now an infected person looks like any average person," Adams said. "That presents that false sense of safety."
And this false sense of security has become even more dangerous due to a new trend, according to Adams: Infections are on the rise within the young male demographic.
"There is a trend in young gay males where there is a rapid increase in new infections," Adams said. He said the increase occurs as early as age 18 through about 25.
Since West Virginia is still a low incidence state, Adams said, less federal funding is being targeted toward sexual education. In fact, he said funding for such programs has been cut.
"That is quite alarming to us," Adams said. "But we're still doing our best efforts."
Key to combating sexual disease is good education and notification, seeking treatment as quickly as possible and using protection, Adams said. But most of all, the most important thing people need to change is their outlook, Adams said.
"People only think of their actions," Adams said. "But what about your partner's actions? Or the actions of whoever they've been with? That false sense of security ... People feel that they're much more safe now. A segment of the population even thinks HIV has been cured. It has not."