SAN ANTONIO - The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is no longer a death sentence because of the advancement of drug research. But many people in the high-risk group still don’t know they are HIV positive.
The high-risk group is men who have unprotected sex with other men. Nationally, the odds of getting HIV in their lifetime are staggering. It's 1 in 11 for white men, 1 in 4 for Hispanic men and 1 in 2 for African-American men.
Whether you are a man or woman, there has been a medical breakthrough that could reduce your risk by more than 90 percent of getting HIV, and not many people know about it.
A group of health leaders in the San Antonio area are working together to create awareness about Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.
“PrEP is an extra layer of protection. It is not meant to be the only thing you do to prevent HIV AIDS.” Dr. Adrian Warren said.
Warren is HIV negative and wants to stay that way. He takes one pill a day to prevent from getting HIV.
“Several years ago, my first partner was actually HIV positive and I was negative. And this was before PrEP was released. And so there was always a little bit of nervousness about that,” Warren said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the drug Truvada to prevent the spread of HIV. The pill is a combination of two drugs at the center of the program. It begins to work in seven days for men and 20 days for women.
Dr. Thomas Kasper, with the Care Clinic at the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, explained to KSAT how PrEP works.
"You take one pill every day with the idea of being whenever you are exposed. Hopefully, you have built in protection because you have therapeutic levels of both drugs in your system at the time of exposure,” Kasper said.
Dr. Phillip Schnarrs, with the University of Texas at San Antonio, helped lead HIV/AIDS research in South and Central Texas. He said he started the South Texas consortium for HIV and STI Research to help people in his community.
“Being a gay man, I found comfort and safety within this community coming out. So I wanted to do it because I thought it was something I could do to give back," Schnarrs said.
The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District is among the partners working together to let the public know about PrEP.
“This year you will see a lot of different associations in San Antonio rolling it out,” said Dr. Junda Woo, medical director at the Metropolitan Health District.
Woo said statewide doctors are seeing an increase of HIV cases in people aged 15 to 24. A majority of them do not know they are HIV positive. The HIV infection rate in Bexar County is higher than the state and national average.
Metropolitan Health said there were 363 new cases of HIV/AIDS in Bexar County in 2015. That’s about three new infections a month.
"Know your partner well. Get tested together. That's always a good way to build intimacy and trust," Warren said.
Warren is a 39-year-old licensed therapist who specializes in gay and lesbian matters, along with veterans issues. Warren is a gay veteran. He served from 1997 until 2002. He receives his PrEP medicine from the VA.
You can reduce your risk of HIV by limiting your number of sexual partners and by using condoms.
But what happens when the condom breaks or you get stuck with a needle that could be infected with HIV? You can take Truvada as part of Post Exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP.
“PEP is for individuals who have been exposed to HIV, or believe they've been exposed to HIV," Schnarrs said.
You must begin PEP within 72 hours of exposure. PEP is a series of medicines taken for a month. It reduces your risk of getting HIV by more than 90 percent.
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