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Health Matters: Debunking misconceptions about HIV/AIDS

A nurse practitioner with UT Physicians reminds public the HIV/AIDS epidemic is not over yet.

HOUSTON — The history of the HIV/AIDS pandemic started with illness and fear of an unknown virus. But science has helped people live long and healthy lives.

Now, President Biden has renewed support to end the epidemic by 2030. He says the goal is in reach thanks to the relentless efforts by researchers and healthcare workers, including Dr. Robin Hardwicke with UT Physicians.

"Could we end it? Yes, we could," she said. "We need every single person infected with HIV to be on medication and have their virus completely suppressed."

Dr. Hardwicke has spent more than 20 years caring for multiple people living with HIV/AIDS.

More than 700,000 Americans have died from AIDS-related illness since the epidemic began in the 1980s. But many have forgotten about the crisis.

"I say 'Oh, well I'm an HIV specialist,' and I get, 'That still exists?'" said Dr. Hardwicke.

And while about 1.2 million people in America live with HIV/AIDS, she says there are still many misconceptions about the disease. Some false claims include the idea that it can only spread to men, specifically men in the LGBTQ+ community.

"'It's only for men. I'm not going to get it because I'm a female' or 'This is still for gay men.' It can be spread to anyone," Dr. Hardwicke said.

What is true: Advances in medications have been monumental in helping control the disease.

"Our transmission rates are not decreasing over time, but our life expectancies are the same for an HIV-positive person as an HIV-negative person," said Dr. Hardwicke.

The bottom line: Dr. Hardwicke wants people to remember that the epidemic is not over and the HIV virus doesn't discriminate.

"All that takes is one time of unprotected sex with someone who is HIV-infected and not surpassed with their viral load. It's out there, protect yourself."

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