Aids

National HIV/AIDS Awareness Month is celebrated in December, and as it ends the campaign to increase awareness of the virus, reduce stigmas and curtail the number of people contracting and living with HIV/AIDS will continue.

There is news on two fronts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its guidelines to encourage doctors to talk to everyone sexually active about PrEP to prevent HIV, and the Federal Drug Administration approved the first injectable treatment for HIV pre-exposure prevention, Apretude, on Dec. 20. 

“[This] approval adds an important tool in the effort to end the HIV epidemic by providing the first option to prevent HIV that does not involve taking a daily pill,” Dr. Debra Birnkrant, director of the Division of Antivirals in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement. “This injection, given every two months, will be critical to addressing the HIV epidemic in the U.S., including helping high-risk individuals and certain groups where adherence to daily medication has been a major challenge or not a realistic option.”

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It is approved for at-risk adults and adolescents for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to reduce the risk of sexually acquired HIV. 

“We all know that sexual activity is apart of everyone’s life, and we have to make a choice as a society to limit transmissions,” Dr. Alex Lacasse, infectious disease physician and director of the Infectious Disease Clinic at St. Mary's Hospital, said.

Until this time, it had been approved for HIV treatment on a monthly basis, according to Lacasse.

“These medicines have been very effective with minimal side effects,” Lacasse said. “We want preventive medicine because this is the only way to grasp HIV and stop its spread so that we are all protected.”

Opened in March 2020, the Ryan White-funded multidisciplinary clinic treats individuals with HIV/AIDS as well as those seeking pre- or post-exposure prophylaxis. In addition to treating HIV-positive individuals, the ID Clinic also provides counseling and information to patients at high risk of contracting HIV, either due to high-risk sexual behaviors or IV drug use.

“Our clinic is mainly focused on HIV individuals, and there is a federally funded program called Ryan White, that reserves funds for HIV treatment since those medications are extremely expensive for patients who don’t have medical coverage,” Lacasse said.

According to Lacasse, this is the first clinic with this funding in SSM Health; only a couple of other clinics have this funding to offer this kind of accessibility.

“In HIV care, what we have realized over the years is that the whole picture is important,” Lacasse said.

“We have patients who don’t know what HIV is or that they have it and we have other patients who don’t have a good social or family support system, so we provide that for them.”

The Infectious Disease (ID) Clinic at SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital - St. Louis provides patients with HIV/AIDS life-saving medical care and suppresses the number of new cases through an active pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) clinic. 

“The goal of this is that they realize and get involved in their own health and for them to do this ultimately means to limit their transmissions, which involves taking medication,” Lacasse said. “

The ID Clinic is located within the Internal Medicine (IM) Clinic at St. Mary's Hospital. The IM Clinic is a Medical Home providing comprehensive and holistic primary care. 

The clinic currently serves approximately 85 at-risk patients.

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