• By Deb Balzer

Infectious Diseases A-Z: Many challenges to eradicating HIV/AIDS

September 11, 2017

sample blood collection tube with HIV test label on HIV infection screening test formHIV weakens a person's immune system and can lead to AIDS. Globally, there are more than 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS , and more than 1 million people living with the infectious disease in the U.S. Dr. Stacey Rizza, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist says, "The unfortunate part is that about 12 to 13 percent of the people in the U.S. who are living with HIV don’t know they are infected."

To become infected with HIV, infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions must enter your body. Most often, HIV is transmitted through sexual behaviors, and needle or syringe use.

"If every person in the world who has HIV infection were diagnosed, linked to care, and on effective therapy so that their virus was suppressed, HIV would be gone in one generation," says Dr. Rizza. "Our challenge in this epidemic is to, first, figure out who’s infected, link them to care so they see their physicians, and get on the appropriate therapy. Then, it can slow down."

Watch: Dr. Stacey Rizza discusses HIV/AIDS.

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HIV screening challenges

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) passed a recommendation that every adult in the U.S. should be screened for HIV at least once in his or her lifetime. It doesn’t matter what a person's background is, whether he or she has ever had sex, whether he or she has ever used IV drugs or has had blood transfusions. No matter what his or her risk factors, every adult in the U.S. should be screened for HIV.

Need for support

"I think it’s we, as human beings, within our societies in many different cultures have to be aware of HIV," says Dr. Rizza. "We have to destigmatize HIV. We have to look for it. And, then, at the level of our governments and our societies, we have to have the infrastructure, the health care support, and the financial support to get people tested; to get them into long-term, effective care; and to get them on long-term, effective therapy."

Risk factors for HIV include:

  • Unprotected sex Unprotected sex means having sex without using a new latex or polyurethane condom every time. Anal sex is more risky than vaginal sex. The risk increases if you have multiple sexual partners.
  • Sexually transmitted infections Many STIs produce open sores on your genitals. These sores act as doorways for HIV to enter your body.
  • IV drugs People who use IV drugs often share needles and syringes. This exposes them to droplets of other people's blood.
  • Uncircumcised man Studies indicate that lack of circumcision increases the risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV.

Learn more by checking out the CDC's HIV Risk Reduction Tool.