Story at a glance
- There is no cure for HIV, which can lead to AIDS, but the virus can be controlled with medical care.
- A new study finds that the five-year mortality rate for people living with HIV is nearing that of the general population in the United States.
- At the same time, research shows that people living with HIV are at higher risk for suicide.
Since the HIV/AIDS pandemic exploded in the 1970s, no cure has been developed for the 1.2 million Americans living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). But with today’s medical care, their life expectancy could be the same as any other American, according to a new study.
"In the early days of the AIDS pandemic, getting a diagnosis with AIDS was incredibly bad news and the prognosis for survival was really poor, and that's not true today," lead author Jessie Edwards, a research assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told HealthDay. "Someone diagnosed with HIV in this day and age can be linked to care and receive highly effective treatment and feel confident that their survival outlook is actually very good."
Five-year all-cause mortality rates for those entering HIV care dropped "dramatically" between 1999 and 2017, according to the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, from a difference of 11.1 percentage points to 2.7 percentage points. And while those living with HIV remained at a "modestly higher risk for death" than the general population, the study did not account for sociodemographic factors separate from HIV infection.
The findings underscore the vital importance of access to health care, which many in the United States still lack. At the same time, another recent study found that people living with HIV who then acquire AIDS are more likely to have suicidal thoughts — and for every two people living with HIV who have suicidal thoughts, one person will attempt suicide.
"There is an urgent need to prioritize mental health screening and care into all HIV testing and treatment settings," Dr. Paddy Ssentongo, a researcher on the study, said, according to the university. "Suicide risk should be assessed in all HIV patients, especially in those who are newly-diagnosed and those with advanced disease."
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