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Experts Say Focus Needs to Remain on Prevention to Reduce HIV Infections

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TWC News: Experts Say Focus Needs to Remain on Prevention to Reduce HIV Infections
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While AIDS may no longer be a top 10 killer in the city, there are still around 1,000 people annually who aren't finding out they're HIV positive until they are sick with AIDS, but work is still ongoing to bring what is still an epidemic down to undetectable levels. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

In California in early March, it was revealed that a second infant had been essentially cured of the HIV she was born with.

"There's increasing evidence that treating early is very important. This baby that we just discussed and the similar infant from a year ago are examples of very different outcomes that can result if HIV is treated very soon after infection," says Dr. Roberto Posada, Mount Sinai Hospital's pediatric HIV program director.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine opens the door to the option of altering or editing certain genes to repel HIV.

"They interfered with a gene that produces the CCR-5, which is needed in most infections for the virus to establish itself within the cell," says Dr. Michael Mullen, the director of Mount Sinai Hospital's HIV institute.

While these discoveries offer hope to those infected that scientists are getting closer to a cure, these experts say that the focus needs to remain on prevention efforts.

"We only see occasional babies in New York City born with HIV, but we do continue to see infections happening at other ages, including adolescence and young adults," Posada says.

"We really have to get people that are HIV infected on anti-retroviral therapy, and we have to prevent those people that are HIV negative from becoming infected if we're going to see an end to this virus," Mullen says.

One way the governor hopes to make more people aware of their status and get them into treatment is by removing the required written consent for HIV testing. The move was proposed in the executive budget.

During a City Council hearing, the city Department of Health stated its support for the proposal.

"The vast majority of people that come to emergency departments, that go to physicians' offices aren't offered HIV testing, and we believe that the opportunity to make this process easier will actually make HIV testing a more routine part of medical care, " says Dr. Jay Varma, deputy health commissioner for disease control.

Varma says that the city is also working with electronic medical record providers to issue prompts, reminding health professionals to administer the test.

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