ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It was once considered a death sentence. HIV / AIDS claimed the lives of nearly one million people in the United States since it was first reported in the 1980s, but advancements in HIV medications have made it possible to not only live with the virus but to keep from spreading it to other people.
ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill spoke with a local HIV doctor about how far we’ve come in treating what used to be a deadly disease.
Doctor Bob Wallace started out as a family doctor in St. Petersburg, but when the AIDS epidemic started back in 1981, he began losing friends to the virus. “I had people coming to me asking ‘why aren’t you doing anything?’”
Moved by what was happening around him, he decided to dedicate his career to AIDS research at a time when an AIDS diagnosis was considered a sure death sentence. “Most people died within the six months.”
After being diagnosed with AIDS, their day-to-day lives were forever changed. “There was one regimen that it was 26 pills a day and it had to be taken every eight hours.” Since then, there have been several advancements in HIV/AIDs medications, but they haven’t come without trial and error. “Some of them have led to medical complications which, we don’t use those drugs anymore.”
Nowadays, we rarely see people die from AIDS. He says most people diagnosed with the virus today have a normal life expectancy thanks to medical advancements. In fact, people living with HIV now take only one pill a day which helps to suppress viral loads to the point where the virus is virtually undetectable. “The virus will not pass from that individual to another sexual partner.”
Just this year, the FDA approved a new treatment called Cabenuva, which requires an injection once a month in each hip. “You don’t have to take the pills. It’s just a shot.”
Florida is consistently among the top states with the highest HIV transmission rates. Dr. Wallace recommends that people who don’t have the virus but are at risk for infection take a daily pill called PrEP. PrEP is up to 99% effective and helps to prevent HIV from replicating in your body. “You’re bringing people into a state where they’re going to be protected from catching HIV.”