The 1 Thing People Need to Know About the HIV Vaccine

Source: AP
Source: AP

It seems like every day, there's something new that just might kill HIV. A molecule in soy sauce may do the trick — or perhaps bee venom

Time and time again, we've heard whispers of a potential HIV vaccine. Just last week, scientists reported they'd found a new target for an HIV vaccine: "a string of eight amino acids that helps the virus fuse with a cell to infect it," a press release from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases stated. 

Unfortunately, there's still a "long way to go" before the research will lead to an actual vaccine, according to ScienceAlert. Meanwhile, there are 50,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. each year, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

A vaccine to prevent HIV would be an incredible medical advancement — but it could be years before one comes to market. Until that happens, a nonexistent vaccine is doing nothing to prevent the spread of HIV.

Here are five ways to prevent HIV that already exist.

PrEP

Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a daily pill that prevents HIV-negative people from contracting HIV. The pill approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use as PrEP is called Truvada. It contains two medications — tenofovir and emtricitabine — that block important pathways through which HIV infects the body, according to AIDS.gov.

"When taken consistently, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by up to 92%," according to the CDC. That's in the same range of effectiveness as childhood vaccines, by the way. 

Billboards on New York City subways have begun encouraging the use of PrEP and condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. In January, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed new laws that would make PrEP more accessible to at-risk teens. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants to increase PrEP availability too. 

Condoms

Latex condoms are an affordable and accessible options when it comes to reducing risk of HIV. In lab tests, they've been shown to provide an impermeable barrier "against even the smallest STD pathogens," according to the CDC. If you use them all the time — and in the correct way — latex condoms are "highly effective in preventing sexual transmission of HIV."

Here's a video from Planned Parenthood on the correct way to put on a condom:

Having a safe place to live

HIV prevention isn't just about medical initiatives. It's also about addressing the social factors linked to the spread of the virus. 

One of those factors is housing, as AIDS.gov points out. Among people at greater risk of HIV infection — such as men who have sex with men and injection drug users — "those who lack stable housing are significantly more likely to acquire HIV over time," a 2011 North American Housing and HIV/AIDS Research Summit policy paper stated.

The connection between housing and HIV risk is straightforward: "When one is homeless or facing housing instability, immediate survival takes priority over other activities and choices," according to the paper.

The Housing Opportunity Program for Persons with AIDS, or HOPWA, is a federal program that provides grants supporting low-income people living with HIV/AIDS and their families. For other affordable housing options, check out the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Resource Center.

Getting tested

Of the estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States, 12.8% — nearly 1 in 8 — don't know they have it, according to the CDC

If you're HIV positive, knowing your status means you can take steps to stop the spread of the virus. It also means you can start getting antiretroviral therapy, or ART — medications that stop the progression of HIV within your body.

Want to know where you can get tested for HIV? You can search for testing sites on AIDS.gov.

Treatment as prevention

Speaking of ART, getting treatment is another way to prevent the spread of HIV. With antiretrovirals, patients with HIV can achieve an undetectable viral load, meaning the virus is below what a lab test can detect.

Widespread research reported no HIV transmissions between HIV-positive people with undetectable viral loads to their HIV-negative partners, according to The Body

This video, co-written by Mic's Mathew Rodriguez for The Body, explains treatment as prevention — or TasP — and PrEP:

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Jordyn Taylor

Jordyn is an editor on Mic's news desk. She previously worked at the New York Observer, and is a graduate of Hamilton College and New York University. Jordyn is based in New York, and can be reached at jht@mic.com.

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