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HIV treatment advancements help Topeka organization fight the disease

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) - HIV was once considered a death sentence but now doctors are saying it's as manageable as diabetes and other health conditions. 

Positive Connections Executive Director Debbie Guilbault said in the 80s, people's HIV often developed into AIDS.

"Initially people were dying pretty much within weeks of diagnosis," Guilbault said. 

Scientists developed medications to keep HIV from progressing to AIDS. At first people had to take many pills several times a day. Dr. Siddhi Mankame at Stormont Vail Health said in the last decade those medications have been combined into single pills.

"It's gotten down to being as easy as taking one pill once a day," she said.

Dr. Mankame said that means more people are taking their medications to manage the virus. People can manage the virus to the point where the risk of transmission becomes very low. 

"They don't necessarily pass it to their partners and not to their babies either," Dr. Mankame said. 

In the past year, Guilbault said they've started telling their clients about PrEP, a medication that helps protect people from contracting HIV. 

"It is designed to be taken every day to reduce the risk of infection for HIV infection for people who are at higher risk," she said. 

In 2018, they also sped up the process for getting underinsured people with HIV into treatment. It once took more than a month to get those patients federal assistance paying for treatment. Now it only takes about 10 days. 

"It's not same day treatment obviously, but it's a lot quicker than waiting six to eight weeks before you can get in to see the doctors," Guilbault said.

Dr. Mankame said the advancements in treatment makes HIV like many other health conditions.

"Like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, as long as you take your medication your disease is controlled," she said.

The most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control say HIV infection rates fell by eight percent from 2010 to 2015. At the end of 2015 about a million americans had HIV. 


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