What's Going Around: new HIV infections in Louisiana

Published: Dec. 17, 2015 at 3:33 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 17, 2015 at 3:40 PM CST
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Louisiana is near the top of the list in the nation when it comes to a staggering statistic: the number of new cases of HIV/AIDS.

Human immunodeficiency virus or HIV affects the immune system.

CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital infectious disease physician, Dr. Timothy Haman, says the state is consistently reporting new cases, with two major cities consistently ranking second and third nationwide with new infections.

"We do have a lot of new cases in the state," said Dr. Haman.  "Unfortunately, Baton Rouge and New Orleans are two of the biggest drivers for that.  We do have a lot of cases here, as well, and there is a lot of travel between the cities."

Dr. Haman says it is important to understand that HIV is only spread through contact with bodily fluids that contain HIV, including blood, semen, and vaginal secretions.

"Body fluids that don't typically contain HIV are things like saliva and tears and other things that you would get from person-to-person contact," he said.  "It's important to remember that just hugging someone or something like that is not going to spread HIV."

Early symptoms of HIV infection may be mild and easily unnoticed or dismissed.  As the virus attacks the immune system, infections can become more common.

"People who have chronic infections, recurrent infections, infections that just for whatever reason seem like they're not getting better," said Dr. Haman.  "If we diagnose any of those AIDS-defining illnesses, like we see that you have pneumocystis pneumonia or you come in with thrush, then that's typically what would prompt us to get an HIV test."

Rapid HIV tests involve a cheek swab and results are available within an hour.

Dr. Haman says an HIV diagnosis is not a death sentence or quality of life ender.  Medications help manage it and the drug Truvada, has been proven effective for partners of an infected person, when used in conjunction with a condom.

"It's been studied as prevention for patients that are high risk for HIV, either through IV drug use or unprotected sex, and it does reduce the risk of transmission of HIV," said Dr. Haman.

Protected sex is the best means of prevention.

If you want more information on HIV testing, medical and social services, and risk assessments, check out the Southwest Louisiana AIDS Council, or SLAC.  It's a non-profit organization in Lake Charles, working to support those with HIV and AIDS.

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