Health Alert: Return of the AIDS epidemic

From voanews.com

Thirty-six million people currently live with AIDS, a disease that claimed the lives of nearly 1 million people last year. Experts predict that by 2030, 100 million people will have been infected with the HIV virus.

Despite the alarming numbers, there have been great strides in treatment. HIV is no longer a death sentence, and researchers say people receiving treatment for HIV are able to live normal lives and do not pose a risk to others when they are being treated proactively.

But success carries a price: complacency. Funding for AIDS research and treatment has declined, and in some places, so has government interest.

“When we talk to ministers of finance, they always say to me, ‘I thought HIV was over because I don’t see anybody dying,’” said Dr. Deborah Birx, a U.S. Global AIDS coordinator who oversees the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

J. Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “We’re not reaching goals.” He added, “There’s going to be a struggle to hold ground. … There’s a widening deficit of political will and financial capacity that we face some really daunting challenges in prevention.”

Dr. Chris Beyrer, with Johns Hopkins Medicine, predicted that things will get worse if governments and civilians continue their complacency.

“We are not done with AIDS,” he said. “It is much too early to declare victory, and the risks of a resurgent epidemic are real.”

Read the full article.

Gay teens at least twice as likely to use illegal drugs, study suggests

From NBC News online

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning (LGBQ) teens are at least twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to use illegal drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, heroin and methamphetamines, a U.S. study suggests. Previous research suggests that stressors related to being closeted or coming out and being rejected by family or friends could contribute to an increased risk of substance use among sexual minority teens, senior study author John Ayers of San Diego State University in California said.

For the new study, researchers looked at data from roughly 14,703 high school students who had been surveyed about their lifetime and prior-month use of 15 different substances, including illegal drugs as well as tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs that weren’t given to them by a physician.

LGBQ youth were more than three times more likely to try heroin or methamphetamines at least once, and more than twice as likely to try ecstasy or cocaine, the study also found.

Stressors faced by LGBQ teens, such as stigma and isolation, “may make drugs foolishly appear attractive as a coping mechanism,” Ayers said by email. “Even experimentation with these harder drugs can derail a teen’s future,” he said.

The vast majority of teens didn’t use illegal drugs, regardless of sexual orientation, researchers report in the American Journal of Public Health.

Read the full article on NBC News.

Why STDs are on the rise in America

From the Economist online

Much of the increase in STDs has come from gay and bisexual men. Although a relatively small share of the population, they accounted for 81% of male syphilis cases in 2016, according to the Centres for Disease Control. As with heterosexuals, this seems to be because sex is now seen as less risky. That is due to the advent of PrEP, a prophylactic drug cocktail which gay men can take to nearly inoculate themselves from HIV. The reduced chances of catching HIV—along with the fact that a positive diagnosis is no longer a death sentence—seems to encourage men to drop their guard. A recent study of gay and bisexual men, published in the Lancet, a medical journal, found that as more began taking PrEP, rates of consistent condom usage dropped from 46% to 31%. Recent studies have shown that uptake of PrEP is strongly associated with increased rates of STD infection.

All this shows that changing sexual mores, and a reduced fear of the risks of unprotected sex, seem to be at fault—especially since the problem is not just limited to America. England experienced a 20% increase in syphilis diagnoses in 2017 and a 22% increase in those of gonorrhoea. Other countries in western Europe have seen ever worse outbreaks, sometimes exceeding 50%. Dwindling public spending on STD prevention—which in America has fallen by 40% in real terms since 2003—is not helping matters. Yet the chief methods of prevention, abstinence and condoms, are tried and true. Should these options seem too chaste or chaffing, then prospective partners ought to get an STD test (especially since most infections can be cleared up with a simple course of antibiotics). Verified testing is vital since verbal assurances, especially on the cusp of a liaison, can be misleading.

Read the full article.