By Capt. Everline Atandi, Tripler Army Medical Center Public Health NursingNovember 30, 2018
HONOLULU (Nov. 30, 2018) - Diseases and illnesses do not discriminate, and they do not pick and choose who, how, and when they will attack. It does not matter what your social or economic status is either. However, having an understanding of the epidemiology of a particular disease such, as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) to facilitate prevention is crucial.
The United States (U.S.) military continually deploys Soldiers all over the world for various missions. With nearly half a million military members collectively, the Army is the largest of all services. With that in mind, unfortunately, one of the reportable diseases in the ranks is HIV which is known to attack and weaken the immune system.
Without proper treatment, the virus can progress to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, known as AIDS, the severe phase of HIV infection whereby an affected person's immune system is severely damaged, and it cannot fight infections. The weak immune system leads to an increasing number of severe illnesses termed as opportunistic infections.
Statistically, in the U.S, approximately 1.3 million people are living with HIV of which, about 40,000 are diagnosed annually. In contrast, each year roughly 260 new HIV infections are diagnosed among U.S. military service members, with most diagnoses occurring between men who have sex with men.
Generally, HIV is spread by having anal or vaginal sex with an infected person without a condom or without taking medicines to prevent HIV. However, there are several measures that you can take to protect yourself from contracting the HIV virus.
First and foremost, if you do not plan to be abstinent, mutual monogamy and HIV Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) are both more effective. PrEP is an HIV prevention option for people who don't have HIV but are at high risk of becoming infected with HIV and involves taking a specific HIV medication that your provider deems is right for you.
Laboratory studies have demonstrated that latex condoms provide a substantially impermeable barrier to particles the size of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Another way is to be in a mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.
Having less risky sex can also reduce the chances of contracting the HIV infection. Limiting the number of sexual partners plays a significant role as well. The more partners you have, or having a partner with a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) are both factors that can increase the risk of HIV transmission.
Getting tested and treated for STDs is crucial before you and your prospective partner engage in sex. Having an STD can increase your risk of becoming infected with HIV or spreading it to others. It is recommended to consult your health care provider about PrEP if you are at a high risk of becoming infected.
If an individual is infected with HIV or an STD, contact tracing of sexual partners is vital to test and treat the partners that might also be at risk. It is highly recommended the current patient provide contact information of previous partners to their health care providers once they are diagnosed. This process stops infections and diseases from spreading further throughout the community to ensure those infected are located, notified and counseled for treatment. Public Health Nurses (PHN) are available to assist with the notification process and can confidentially inform your partner(s) for you if needed.
Contact tracing is also a necessary part of treatment because if you are diagnosed with an STD, it is critical that your recent sexual partner(s) are treated with the same medicine as you.
For further assistance or information, please reach out to your PHN at Tripler Army Medical Center, 1 Jarrett White road, Preventive Medicine, 7th floor Oceanside, 808-433-1093, or your local Military Treatment Facility.