Provided by Prince William County
For the past 40 years, there has been an ongoing pandemic in the United States, pre-dating COVID-19.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that compromises a person’s immune system and its ability to fight off infections by, among other things, targeting T-cells, which are a part of the body’s natural immune response. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a more advanced stage of HIV that further compromises the body’s ability to fight off infections and cancers, often resulting in death.
It is estimated that more than 75 million people have become infected with HIV, and more than 32 million people have died globally of AIDS-related causes since the HIV/AIDS epidemic began. As of 2020, Prince William County has over 1,000 residents living with HIV/AIDS, with over 40 patients newly diagnosed per year.
Despite these daunting statistics, people with HIV/AIDS today are living longer, fuller lives thanks to new medications, management techniques, and organizations set up to assist people who live with or are at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. One such organization is the Juniper Program, which is run by INOVA. The Juniper Program has offices in Dumfries and Manassas and serves as Northern Virginia’s largest provider of HIV/AIDS care. The Juniper Program offers all aspects of primary medical care and mental health, substance abuse, and case management services to HIV-positive individuals and has a history of delivering compassionate HIV/AIDS clinical and education services.
Slow but measurable progress has also been made in the fight against HIV transmission. These advances include finding that “Undetectable=Untransmittable,” meaning a person participating in HIV treatment who reaches an undetectable viral status is not at risk of transmitting the virus to a non-afflicted person, a concept and treatment goal that ultimately helps prevent the spread of HIV. Additionally, many new and time-tested prevention strategies limit a person’s exposure to HIV. These include taking medications designed to reduce the risk of transmission called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), using condoms, limiting or abstaining from intimate partnerships, and reducing or abstaining from injection drug use.
Like many other services, the COVID-19 pandemic has undercut HIV/AIDS response in many ways, including the decline of HIV testing and fewer people seeking treatment for HIV in 2020.
With all this in mind, Prince William County has declared the month of December 2021 as HIV/AIDS Awareness Month. The community is encouraged to recognize those individuals actively fighting this disease and hold those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS in our collective memory.
Citizens are also encouraged to be aware of their status and seek out further information and resources about preventing the disease.