BY: BRIANNA FLORES
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can be transmitted to anyone regardless of sex, gender, race or any other measured demographic. The first known case can be traced back to 1981 when five gay men were diagnosed with a “rare lung infection,” right here in Los Angeles. Last year, the Los Angeles Public Health Department estimated 47,000 people currently living with HIV in the city as of December 2013, with almost 2,000 new infections reported in 2012.
HIV is undoubtedly a fatal virus if gone untreated. The virus destroys crucial cells that are required for the human immune system to battle foreign diseases and infections, and can ultimately take over the body through reproducing itself. Years ago, HIV-1 was thought to be a death sentence because little treatment was available -- not to mention the cost of treatments.
Today, advanced medication in the form of a small blue pill could change the rate in which HIV-1 is being transmitted. This drug is known as Truvada and it can reduce the likelihood of transmission by 92% when taken daily. Even still, it is important to remember that Truvada is not a cure for HIV-1 or AIDS.
Truvada can either be used to reduce the chances of contracting the virus or it can be used in conjunction with other drugs as a form of treatment. Truvada is advertised as a drug for those over the age of 12 who do not have the HIV-1 virus but are at an especially high risk of contracting the virus. This can include someone who has a current partner with HIV-1, has sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol, injects drugs that are not prescribed by a licensed doctor, or has sex in exchange for compensation.
Students on campus seem to agree that Truvada is great for those at a high risk of contracting the virus, but acknowledge it should be used with caution.
“I think it should be looked at as a second shield,” said senior sociology major Iliana Huacuja. “[People] should still be careful and use other methods.”
PhD student in engineering and applied mathematics German Gramajo shared a similar view, “92% effectiveness seems (like) a very good number. Even though the number is good, I would expect people to still take precautions.”
This positive outlook on the drug was shared by most, but Truvada also raised questions for others.
“I feel the virus will keep spreading [because] there is still that 8% [chance] even when used daily,” said senior journalism student Patrick Pham.
Some students felt as though Truvada would be used inconsistently and viewed as a guarantee that HIV could not be transmitted.
“I think the drug would more so enable people to abuse [Truvada], causing it to spread more,” said senior chemical engineering major Kathleen Chelling.
Although Christopher Page, who is working toward a master’s degree in electrical engineering, thought that Truvada could be beneficial for individuals who are already at a high risk of HIV-1, he also thought the drug could have some potential issues.
“If promoted to people with a low risk of contracting HIV, it could encourage a feeling of invincibility that would cause them to avoid basic steps to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases,” said Page.
The media has covered both sides of Truvada. Fusion released an article last December about the drug helping a couple conceive a child naturally without transmitting HIV-1 to the mother or child. Before Truvada, their options were limited to in vitro fertilization and adoption since the male was HIV positive. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times shares opinions held by some in the gay community. Veteran activists have called it the “party drug” and are unoptimistic about people taking it as directed.
As mentioned earlier, anyone can be at risk of contracting HIV-1 and it should no longer be stereotyped as a virus that only infects sex workers or gay individuals. According to the Los Angeles Public Health department, newly diagnosed cases in 2011 were predominantly Latinos at 47%, followed by Caucasians at 23%, African Americans at 22%, Asians at 5%, and American Indians or Alaska Natives at 1%.
Although Truvada varies in price geographically, it ranges from $8,000 to $13,000 annually, but is likely to be covered by insurance.
As with all prescription medication, there are a few side effects that should be considered. Major side effects include kidney problems, softening of the bones and too much lactic acid in your blood. Excessive amounts of lactic acid can cause blue hands and feet, abnormal heartbeats and shortness of breath.
Anyone interested in taking the drug should consult with a licensed physician. More information can be found at Truvada.com.