It's HIV Vaccine Awareness Day!
Hey everyone! Hope you all had a relaxing weekend. I know I did. I’m having a serious case of the Mondays following all that sunshine and sleep. But, here I am, ready to work and learn a little something about today’s cause. Today is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, and so today we’ll delve into the basics of the HIV virus and what a vaccine would mean. Today’s topic is complex, especially because it isn’t viewed with the same sense of urgency that it used to be, which means it doesn’t get the same attention necessary to create treatments or develop cures.
So what is HIV? HIV is a virus that, if left untreated, can eventually develops into AIDS. HIV affects the body’s ability to fight off invaders, such as infections or diseases. It is transmitted through bodily fluids, and it infects T cells, which are the body’s defense system. Left untreated, T cells in the body dramatically diminish, and the body is left vulnerable to opportunistic infections and diseases. There is a higher rate of certain cancers and diseases in those with HIV or AIDS. Without early detection and treatment the body is weakened, and over time it becomes unable to fight. This is when people succumb to the disease because of an inability to fight off an infection or disease.
A little history to start with. HIV is believed to have originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo way back in the 20’s, when it seems the virus spread from chimpanzees to humans. For decades there were almost no reported cases of the virus. Of course, back then, there was no awareness of the virus, and it didn’t even have a name, so it’s hard to be sure exactly how many cases there were. It was nowhere near the explosion of HIV/AIDS cases that the 1970’s and 80’s saw. In the beginning, doctors were only seeing the advanced stages of AIDS, and were unaware that the source of the illness was HIV. Most early cases were not even attributed to AIDS. It was discovered when gay men and intravenous drug users were being diagnosed with very rare infections and cancers at increased rates. Both the lung infection (called PCP) and the cancer (Kaposi’s Sarcoma) were rare enough that this sudden increase of cases drew attention. The cases seemed to be localized in metropolitan cities, and by the 80’s it had already spread across five continents.
At first, in the very early 80’s (I’m talking like ‘81 and ’82) cases numbered in the hundreds, and about half of the patients affected had died. By ’82, the pattern of sexuality amongst patients had become apparent, and so the disease was originally named GRID, meaning gay-related immune deficiency. Around the same time, blood transfusion patients and hemophiliacs began to be diagnosed with the disease, and so it was renamed AIDS, meaning acquired immune deficiency syndrome. In ’83, women and children had begun to be diagnosed with the disease. It was becoming clear that the women were having heterosexual sex with men who had contracted the disease, and then passing the disease to their children. Nearing the end of the year, the World Health Organization had a meeting to discuss the emergence of this new disease, and began tracking it on an international scale. By the end of that year, cases were in the thousands, again, with about a 50 percent mortality rate. In ’84, the retrovirus was discovered as the source of AIDS, and a blood screening was developed to test people for the presence of the virus antibodies. In ’85, the blood test was made commercial and they began screening blood in blood banks. By the end of the year, reported cases of AIDS had reached over 20,000. In ’86, the retrovirus was renamed HIV (previously HTVL-III/LAV), and conclusively recognized as the cause of AIDS. In ’87, it was discovered that the disease could be transmitted through breastfeeding. That year, a more precise HIV antibody test was approved by the FDA, and the first antiretroviral drug was approved for the treatment of HIV. By the end of that year, cases of AIDS had surpassed 70,000 worldwide, with over half of those cases being in the United States. Nearing the end of 1989, there were over 100,000 cases of AIDS in the U.S., and over 400,000 worldwide.
Progress was swift, and the 90’s saw refinement in tests and more effective treatment of the disease. Managing the disease was possible and the HIV diagnosis was no longer a death sentence. Unfortunately, the disease was still spreading at an alarming rate, with cases now in the millions. Think about that for a second. The disease went from numbering in the hundreds to the millions over the course of about ten years. That’s the epitome of an epidemic. As you can imagine, people were terrified, and sadly, there was a great deal of prejudice surrounding the disease. As more celebrities came forward about their battle with the disease, both gay and straight, stigma slowly (very slowly) faded and awareness was raised. The Red Ribbon Project was created in 1991, and that was the birth of the awareness ribbon as a symbol of support and tool for raising awareness.
Let’s get to the HIV Vaccine. Why do we need one? Aren’t there already drugs that are effective in preventing HIV? The answer to that is yes and no. There is a drug called PrEP, which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, which can significantly lower a persons chances of contracting the virus if they are exposed, but not eliminate the risk entirely. The issue with PrEP is that it isn’t a viable option for everyone at risk. The drug is very expensive; a month supply without insurance is around $1,300. Even if the cost isn’t prohibitive, that doesn’t mean everyone has access to it, especially those who are at high risk of contracting the virus, like in Sub-Saharan Africa. Plus, every drug carries a risk of side effects, and the drug is only effective when taken every day without forgetting doses. Basically, the prophylactic option is nowhere near ideal.
A vaccine is the most promising and most cost effective way to prevent people from becoming HIV positive. Not to mention, it has the most potential for preventing the disease in countries where it is prominent. Prevention will always be preferable to treatment options. Although the disease can be well managed these days, not all treatments are effective for everyone, and people develop drug resistances. The goal is to have everyone vaccinated against it one day. Risk factors change, and even those who are diligent about using prevention methods can still contract the disease. Our greatest hope for eradicating the disease is a vaccine. Scientists have been testing potential vaccines for over a decade. Some have been promising, however, there are still no FDA approved vaccines for HIV. Scientists are getting closer all the time, though, and a vaccine may not be so far off. 2017 has seen a new vaccine, which is totally unique from previous vaccine attempts because it would protect against many different subsets of HIV, move to phase II trials in North America. Yay science! HIV Awareness Day is observed annually to call attention to the need for a vaccine and educate people on the important role it would play in ending the disease.
And now, as returning readers know, it is time for me to explain who we are and why we began this awareness blog. Hi! We’re Personalized Cause. We are the number one source for custom awareness ribbons in the U.S. What’s a custom awareness ribbon? Good question! We offer our customers the chance to engrave a cloisonné awareness ribbon with a name, date or phrase. Just as the red awareness ribbon changed how people showed support for those suffering from AIDS and raised awareness for the disease, our custom awareness ribbons aim to change the way we support those we care about by humanizing their cause. An awareness ribbon by itself says you support a cause, a personalized awareness ribbon says why you support that cause.
At Personalized Cause, we are all about raising awareness and supporting those around us. Our goal is to raise awareness for all sorts of causes with our blog, in hopes that one of these blogs may help to detect illness early or prevent illness all together. We carry all sorts of awareness ribbons and silicone wristbands, with the option for customization in all products. Our personalized awareness ribbons allow you to show the world why a cause matters to you. Custom awareness ribbons can be a silent but powerful show of support for someone facing a health crisis, or a way to inspire others to take action for a cause. The most powerful way to raise awareness is to show others why it matters to you.
AIDS and HIV are represented by a red awareness ribbon. If you would like to order a red personalized awareness ribbon, visit:
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