State health service urges Montanans to get screened regularly
December 1 is World AIDS Day and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and local partners are using the commemorative event as an opportunity to increase awareness about who may be at risk, and to decrease the stigma of HIV/AIDS.
The 2016 World AIDS Day theme is “Leadership. Commitment. Impact.” State-supported HIV treatment and prevention programs are committed to reducing the epidemic in Montana by facilitating planning, implementing strategic HIV prevention activities and ensuring access to HIV treatment.
“World AIDS Days is a time to reflect on the many Montanans who work so hard to enhance HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts in Montana, and to also remember those who have perished from the disease or are currently living with HIV,” said Judy Nielsen of the DPHHS STD-HIV Prevention Section.
She also said additional health coverage options are also proving beneficial. In January 2016, Montana launched the HELP Plan (Medicaid expansion) that extended health coverage to thousands of state residents. The Ryan White Care Act also provides life-saving medication to hundreds of Montanans with HIV. “Access to health care and treatment is critical because it allows persons with HIV to improve their health outcomes and live more productive and longer lives,” Nielsen said.
Judy Nielsen of the DPHHS STD-HIV Prevention Section said the relatively low number of persons living with HIV in the state gives rise to the hope of one day “Getting to Zero,” which was a recent World AIDS Day theme. Montana in 2016 currently has an estimated 620 residents living with HIV.
The number of new infections reported annually in Montana is fairly stable, averaging 20 people per year. However, given the recent increase in other sexually transmitted disease (STD), officials are concerned that they could see additional HIV infections in the next few years. Certain STDs that result in ulcers or lesions can increase a person’s susceptibility to infection with HIV.
A recent advance in the field of HIV prevention involves the use of medication taken by persons at high risk for acquiring HIV. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, consists of taking a daily pill and has been proven to reduce the risk of infection if a person is exposed to HIV.
Another effective prevention method is treatment of individuals who are already infected with HIV. People living with HIV who are on HIV medications can lower the amount of virus in their blood to undetectable levels, substantially reducing the risk of sexual transmission of HIV to others.
To lower an individual’s risk of HIV infection, public health authorities recommend the following:
- Reduce the number of sexual partners or remain in a long-term monogamous relationship.
- Talk to your partner about HIV and use latex condoms every time you have sex.
- Have an honest and open discussion with your health care provider about your sexual history and ask if you should be tested for STD and HIV.
In addition to advice from a health care provider, HIV counseling and testing services are available at the clinics listed on the https://getcheckedmt.org website.
More information on HIV can be found by contacting a local health department or visiting www.dphhs.gov