Came across two news stories of real interest regarding HIV/AIDS that are pretty unrelated but both worth paying attention to. The first deals with a research breakthrough and the other deals with a social ramification of current political policy.

From Science Daily:

Cholesterol metabolism in immune cells linked to HIV progression

Lower levels of cholesterol in certain immune cells–a result of enhanced cholesterol metabolism within those cells–may help explain why some HIV-infected people are able to naturally control disease progression, according to research that will be presented in a poster at the 8th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2015) in Vancouver, Canada, and the pre-conference 2015 Towards an HIV Cure Symposium. The findings provide a basis for potential development of new approaches to control HIV infection by regulating cellular cholesterol metabolism.

HIV infection has been especially hard to target with a vaccine because of how quickly it mutates, so the more we understand how HIV functions within our bodies, alternative treatment therapies can be devised. One cool pice of this research, was that a University of Pittsburgh researcher was involved–

To identify genetic factors linked to defective trans infection, Giovanna Rappocciolo, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh and colleagues searched for patterns in gene expression, or the degree to which specific genes are turned on or off, in APCs from eight HIV nonprogressors and eight progressors enrolled in MACS. Compared to APCs from progressors, cells from nonprogressors expressed higher levels of several cholesterol-related genes associated with defective trans infection. These results improve understanding of how nonprogressors control HIV without drug therapy and potentially may contribute to new approaches to manage HIV infection.

From The Gaurdian US Edition:

Failure to disclose HIV-positive status is a felony that leads to a much worse crime

There are multiple aspects of this story which are important to consider. The one that struck me as the simplest was this statistic:

Ninety-two percent of new HIV infections occur from people who do not know their status or are not on treatment, according to a February 2015 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The most important step towards stopping the spread of HIV is frequent (every 3-4 months) testing, and seeking treatment. Those who are positive but under treatment are of extremely low (almost nonexistent) chance of spreading HIV. The ones who are at the greatest risk of spreading HIV are those who don’t know they are positive. Failure to be tested places YOU at risk.

The next idea that struck me is more complex and deserves a more thorough explanation than this post, but I want to mention it anyway. Attacking men of color who are HIV positive becomes an extension of white privilege, and another way by which we are incarcerating black me and harming the black community.

Michael Johnson now joins the ranks of countless other black men in America who are forced to become more comfortable with dry, hard concrete and stale orange jumpsuits than with the smell of fresh-cut grass or the sound of July 4 fireworks. He will be another black man who is forced to be more accustomed to surveillance and punishment than freedom.

While disclosing one’s status is important when engaging in sex – especially when most states have laws penalizing failure to do so, varying in degree of penalty – the major issue with HIV criminalization, and cases like Johnson’s, is they only draw our focus away from how HIV is actually transmitted and don’t stop HIV from spreading, rather just relocating it to prisons, where it will continue to infect people.

Ending the epidemic of HIV is actually very simple: frequent testing; following safer sex practices; and for those who are positive, adhering to treatments so that your viral load remains undetectable. Incarceration does nothing to stop the spread of HIV. Rather it demonizes the individual and increases the likelihood of HIV within the prison population.

 

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