The story of a virus: HIV and Aids
Approximately 40 years have passed since the first cases of AIDS were discovered in the United States in 1981. At that time, very little was known about this virus, and the diagnosis was considered a death sentence because there were no treatments available, and the causes were unknown.
However, thanks to advances in treatment, medication, and campaigns to prevent the spread of the virus, people with HIV have been able to live healthy lives. These advances have gone through different stages, and it is important to know them to better understand this disease and fight it.
Going back to its beginnings
HIV infection in humans came from a type of chimpanzee in Central Africa. The chimpanzee version of the virus -called simian immunodeficiency virus or SIV- may have been transmitted to humans when they hunted chimpanzees for their meat and came into contact with infected blood.
Studies show that HIV may have passed from chimpanzees to humans in the late 1800s. The virus slowly spread throughout Africa over several decades and then to other parts of the world.
However, it was not until 1981 that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the first alert about AIDS. It reported it as a rare form of pneumonia among young homosexuals in California.
The first antiretroviral drug appears
As part of the process of fighting this virus, AZT was approved as an antiretroviral treatment in 1987, but it was expensive and highly toxic. However, the pharmaceutical industry continued to work to find drugs that improve the health of HIV patients.
This has led to the development of drugs and treatments that, while not yet curing HIV infection, make it a manageable chronic condition. They also reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
The 1990s was the strongest phase of the epidemic. Deaths were on the rise and discrimination towards people who were infected was high. Since then, this virus has represented a significant public health challenge.
Plus, from the beginning of the epidemic until 2001, 79.3 million people were infected with HIV. 53% of all people living with HIV are women and girls. And, according to UNAIDS, about 6.1 million people did not know they were living with HIV in 2020.
There is hope
In 1996 hopeful results in the treatment of HIV were reported, indeed a combination of retrovirals could stop the progression of the disease. This led to years full of optimism, because of the rapid recovery of many people with the syndrome.
In 2007, the first trials of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) were conducted. This treatment provided the possibility of preventing infection by taking the medications daily. By using this treatment consistently, the risk of contracting HIV during sex was reduced by 90%.
Then, in 2012, the first case in history of a person who got rid of the disease was known. After receiving a bone marrow transplant for leukemia, the virus disappeared in patient Timothy Brown´s blood.
Towards a more conscious society
In addition to these advances, public awareness regarding HIV infection has been a priority. Therefore, the World AIDS Day was established on December 1st.
In the same way, the pharmaceutical industry is constantly searching for a HIV vaccine, while creating drugs and treatments to fight the virus. This has resulted in a 52% reduction in new HIV infections and a 47% reduction in HIV-related deaths since 1997.
And although research to find a vaccine has been challenging, we are getting closer to a definitive answer. The success of the COVID-19 vaccine has raised hopes; experts say the advances in mRNA vaccine production platforms due to COVID-19 may be the key to an HIV vaccine. This has been a great encouragement for all members of society to continue fighting against HIV/AIDS.