SAN ANTONIO – Having spent 15 years working in the Dominican Republic among Hispanics living with HIV, Dr. Barbara Taylor, an expert in infectious diseases, said her latest study shows there’s an increased risk for obesity and diabetes.
Taylor said they’re living longer thanks to the medical advances in retroviral drugs, “But we have to look at the whole person," Taylor said. "We can’t just treat the virus anymore.”
The associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio said there’s also a correlation between Hispanics in South Texas and the Caribbean island nation.
“That’s something that unfortunately, both Caribbean-Americans and Mexican-Americans have in common,” she said.
Taylor said the study followed 153 people for more than two years after they started taking their retroviral medications.
She said 79 percent developed either obesity, high cholesterol or diabetes, while 48 percent developed more than one health condition.
She said the research discovered a perfect storm in each of them, “genetics and heredity, the medications themselves and then the inflammation from the virus.”
Taylor said to clarify, “In the old days, probably 20 years ago, a lot of the medications did have side effects that may have included causing diabetes and causing weight change."
That’s not the case with the newer medications.
But she said the chronic inflammation that afflicts people living with HIV, can cause these complications.
Taylor said inflammation is how the body uses its immune system to fight the flu.
She said, “In the case of HIV, the body tries to fight the virus. But the virus hides from the immune system. So the inflammation that is usually helpful, winds up harming you.”
Taylor said with time, the inflammation can exhaust the body, causing problems such as higher rates of heart attacks.
Unwilling to be identified due to the stigma of HIV, a man said he’d been living with the virus for 26 years thanks to the retroviral drugs he began taking in 1997.
He said since then he has not developed any of the health consequences detailed in Taylor’s study.
“Not as of yet, thank God,” he said. “I go to the gym. I try to watch what I eat. And, I’m a positive guy.”
He urges others like him to do the same. “Take care of yourself as much as you can in all aspects of your life,” he said.
He also said he’s grateful for people like Taylor, “who are looking at all the things that can happen to us, not just HIV.”
Taylor said she’s asking people living with HIV for suggestions on how to develop counseling and interventions that can lead to a healthier lifestyle.
She said her goal is for them “to live a long and healthy life.”