Life With HIV: Why The Diagnosis Is No Longer A Death Sentence

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HIV/AIDs awareness
HIV-positive adults are close to having a life expectancy that echoes the general US population.

On December 1, the world celebrated World AIDS Day, a global victory in the fight to end the end the bias on men, women and children living with HIV — and more than two weeks later, the world may be gearing up to celebrate something even bigger.

A new study published in PLOS ONE by the North American AIDS Cohort Collaboration on Research and Design, in conjunction with the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, found that a 20-year-old HIV-positive adult on antiretroviral therapy (known as ART) is expected to live into their early 70s.

Longer Lives
The groundbreaking results prove that living with a positive diagnosis may no longer be a walking death sentence: HIV-positive adults are getting closer and closer to having a life expectancy that echoes the general US population. Researchers reviewed data from nearly 23,000 individuals receiving ART (a mix of three different drugs that suppress and stop the progression of HIV — but with damning side effects) over the age of 20. They noted that the change in life expectancy differed depending on sociodemographic and clinical characteristics (like drug use and immune cell counts), and they found that over the years, people living with HIV have been living longer.

HIV-positive adults are living almost 20 years longer today than they were in 2000. The study showed that between 2000 and 2002, HIV-positive adults at 20 only had a life expectancy of 36.1 and in 2006 and 2007; they had a life expectancy of nearly 51.4 years. And the reason? Research points to ART; the three-punch packed treatment has helped HIV-positive adults enjoy a longer life, though the side effects of the pill are, in most cases, unpleasant.

The Next Stage Of Research
Though the current research proves promising for HIV-infected individuals, it's really the next phase of research that has heads turning. A small group of scientists based in New York believe that treating HIV patients with radiation (from a radioactive smart bomb) will be more effective  and the results don't lie. Just last week, researchers announced that a select group of patients "blasted" by radiation (as well as antiviral drugs) had made the HIV virus undetectable in the body. Led by Dr. Ekaterina Dadachova, researchers found that radioimmunotherapy kills white blood cells infected with the disease. They also found that the radioactive antibodies showed the ability to kill more HIV-infected cells in the brain while doing less damage to the brain.

And while the future for so many HIV-positive adults remains up in the air, the course of the research should stand as a testament to the major steps forward that the scientific community  and the world  has taken to stand by and help.

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