AUAA… Episode 29 – HIV/AIDS – Penn State College of Medicine

>> From Penn State Health, this is Ask Us
Anything About… HIV and AIDS. I’m Scott Gilbert. You know, HIV was once regarded as a death
sentence. There still is no cure; however, people who
get HIV today are living long, happy lives. That’s one of the many things that’s different
about HIV from, say, 30 plus years ago, when the disease was first entered into the public
forum. Here, today, to talk about the current state
of HIV and AIDS, and to answer your questions about it, is Dr. John Zurlo. He’s an infectious disease physician, and
head of the HIV/AIDS program here, at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Good to have you here with us today. Let’s start by talking about the terms HIV
and AIDS. I feel like a lot of people use those interchangeably. Can you kind of explain, briefly, what each
means, so we know that at the onset? >> Yeah. Sure. HIV is the virus that, of course, was discovered
in the 1980s that, when it infects people, it can cause a kind of an immunodeficiency. The immunodeficiency is AIDS. That is to say it’s acquired immunodeficiency
syndrome. So, once the virus causes damage to the immune
system, such that it is – becomes so damaged that it can’t protect people who are infected
from these unusual infections and cancers, and then we call it AIDS. >> I’m thinking back to the 1980s, names like
Liberace, Rock Hudson — the very first celebrities who came out and admitted that they had HIV
or AIDS. And, what was the understanding of the disease
back then? When scientists and physicians first started
putting those puzzle pieces together, what did we know at the very beginning? >> At the beginning, it seemed to — the virus,
the syndrome of AIDS seemed to attack certain individuals. So, for example, gay men, injection drug users,
and at the time, way back when, it seemed like the people from Haiti were also involved. And so, at that time, we had some concern
that there was an immunodeficiency that was something that was acquired. In other words, these people weren’t born
with it, but they somehow acquired it. And, it soon became apparent in the early
to mid ’80s that it was caused by a virus — something that spread from person to person. And that’s when we discovered that HIV was
actually the cause of this immunodeficiency syndrome. >> Today, what do we know about who’s most
at risk? Have the demographics changed or shifted? >> Well, I mentioned Haitians. We don’t think about Haitians being uniquely
involved anymore. But, clearly, it involves people who get it
by sex, typically gay men. Also, women who are sexually active with somebody
who’s been HIV infected. And, as we’ve seen now with the opiate epidemic,
we’re seeing more and more people who’ve become infected by injecting drugs. So, those are the groups that are primarily
involved. >> In 2015, I believe, I read about two-thirds
of all diagnoses were gained by sexual men, correct? >> Yeah, that’s probably correct. Yeah. >> And, according to the US Department of
Health and Human Services, more than 1.1 million people today are living with HIV. Here’s the shocking part, though. Many people don’t realize it. How’s that possible? >> Well, you know, we talk about what’s called
the HIV care continuum now. We try and understand where people are on
the spectrum of, okay, so you’re infected, but you don’t know about it. Happily, we’ve made some ground there. Roughly 90% of people who are infected, in
fact, know about their infection. But, then we have a steep drop-off into those
who — let’s say you’ve learned you’re HIV positive, but have you connected with medical
care? And, we know that there’s a large percentage
– perhaps 40 or 50 percent of people, who have been diagnosed, but they’re not seeking
medical care. Once you get into medical care — once you
get on medication, then nothing but good things happen — when people get on medication and
the virus comes under control. >> You’re watching Ask Us Anything About… HIV
and AIDS from Penn State Health. I’m Scott Gilbert, alongside Dr. John Zurlo. And, we welcome your questions for him about
this important topic, whether it’s live on this Facebook video, here, on Wednesday, or
if you — or Tuesday, today’s Tuesday, right? Or, if you’re watching it on playback, you
can feel free to add your questions to the comment field below this Facebook post. And, we’ll make sure we get an answer for
you from Dr. Zurlo. You know, HIV, as we mentioned at the top,
was once regarded as a death sentence. Now, it’s viewed more so as a chronic illness. Can you talk about some of the medical advances
that have caused this shift and made this possible? >> Yeah, yeah. Through my career, in the ’80s and early ’90s,
we watched people get this virus. Their immune systems became very weakened. And, they died of all these complications. And, we know that, without treatment, we think
at least 95% of people who are infected with HIV, would otherwise, eventually die of these
horrible things. Beginning, really, in the mid ’90s, we finally
developed effective anti-viral treatments to really fully control the virus. And, those treatments really have sort of
been modified and advanced to the point now, there are many of these regimens of medicines
that are combined into one pill. And, really, it turns out to be just one pill
per day, usually extremely well tolerated people – tolerate them very well. Which completely shuts off the virus, and
keeps it from causing damage to the immune system. In fact, when we see that the virus is controlled
like this, the immune system has a lot of ability to heal itself, and patients do extremely
well. And so, in fact, when I talked with my patients,
I don’t say that they have a chronic disease. Disease would imply that there’s something
continuing to go wrong with them. But, in reality, once they’re on treatment,
they’re virus is fully controlled, I could say that have a chronic infection. But, it’s not really causing any damage, because
we know that people with HIV who are on these medicines fully controlled, can live a virtually
normal, healthy life. >> It’s being contained. It’s in them, but it’s still — it’s being
contained and not holding them back. >> Yeah, that’s correct. Unfortunately, we haven’t reached the step
where we can actually cure it. That’s one of the challenges. We know that when people are infected, though
we can fully control it, there’s still some virus that sits in these long-lived types
of white blood cells in our body. And, somehow, the medicines aren’t affective
in eliminating all of those — what we call viral reservoirs. So, unfortunately, at least to our thinking
now in 2017, when people stop medication, unfortunately the virus is still there, and
it can rev itself back up, and continue to cause trouble. >> But, is the fact that this condition treatable
now, through medication, has that had a negative effect, in terms of the fear of the disease? I mean — you remember that the perception
of AIDS and HIV in the ’80s and even early ’90s. Has that changed? Are people less fearsome of it, and therefore,
perhaps less aware of avoiding behaviors that can cause it? >> Yeah. Unfortunately. That’s the downside of it. We’ve seen now, though the numbers of cases
of people with HIV being diagnosed have come down, we see, now — this is very promising
over the last few years. But, we also, at the same time, see that people
who are not as afraid of it, who are engaging in behaviors, typically sexual behaviors,
with partners that they don’t know who could be infected, often without condoms, and unfortunately
becoming infected. Not just with HIV, but we’re seeing an upsurge
in certain kinds of sexually transmitted diseases. So, we here, and nationwide, have seen just
this huge upsurge of syphilis cases. And, it’s almost all in men. And so, that’s a challenge. Our — particularly our gay men, engaging
in lots of sexual activity with a lot of different partners are becoming infected, still, with
HIV and all these other sexually transmitted diseases. >> Are there misconceptions out there about
how HIV spreads? People fearing that it spreads this way or
that, when that’s not really the case. >> You know, I think that the public is generally
pretty understanding of how HIV is spread. I do think there’s a general understanding
that it can — that it’s mostly spread sexually. I think it’s a matter of people just not understanding
that, indeed, when they are sexually active with somebody, they don’t know their status
— their HIV status. Their just — they underestimate the possibility
that that person could be infected. >> And therefore infect them. You’re watching Ask Us Anything About… HIV
and AID from Penn State Health. This is Dr. John Zurlo. He’s an infectious disease physician. He also heads the HIV/AIDS program, here at
the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Dr. Zurlo welcomes your questions in the comment
field, whether you’re watching this video live or on playback. What kind of role do healthy behaviors — I’m
thinking of things like exercise, diet, and mental health, play in the overall health
picture for somebody who has HIV or AIDS? >> You know, that — we think it plays an
enormous role. So, we have somebody who’s HIV positive. They come in. They get tested. They get on treatment. And, they’re under control. Well, all of that is great. But, we know that for people who are HIV positive,
it — even when it’s fully controlled, it may add some additional risk, for example,
for cardiovascular disease — to develop, for example, strokes or heart attacks. And so, as it turns out, we understand both
in our population that we care for, here and nationally, a lot of the patients that we
deal with, that we treat — they are smokers, for example. And, we know that the combination of the slightly
increased risk of heart, disease because of HIV, and smoking is a bad combination. So, that’s one of our many things that we
try and focus on — getting people to stop smoking. You know, now that you’re HIV positive, it
doesn’t mean you can’t gain weight, like lots of other people. So, we deal with things like obesity. We deal with high cholesterol. So, all of these things, we try and bring
together and create a comprehensive treatment plan for people. And then, the final step is, get them into
a good exercise program. Stay fit. There’s no reason that anybody with HIV positive
— who is HIV positive shouldn’t and couldn’t get involved in the same kinds of exercise
programs that everybody should be doing. >> So, it goes beyond just taking that one
pill each day. A healthy lifestyle, which frankly we should
all be doing. >> A healthy lifestyle. And, it’s really part of both our plan, and
I think anybody who’s involved in HIV care, now, of their patients — they’re going to
want a comprehensive treatment plan. Not just take your HIV medicine, but a whole
comprehensive care plan to stay healthy. >> If someone watching this video believes
that they may have been exposed to HIV, what steps should they take? What should they do? >> First and foremost, get tested. There’s testing sites throughout Pennsylvania,
throughout the commonwealth. It’s very easy to check with the Department
of Health website, or websites at Hershey Medical Center through our OPT-in site. And, you can find places to get free, confidential
HIV testing. The test is highly accurate. Again, free. Anybody can afford free. And, that’s the best thing to do, is to get
tested. >> Now, Dr. Zurlo just made a reference to That’s That’s an important website. Behind that is a very important collaboration. I’d like to talk with you a bit about that. It’s a grant-funded collaboration that serves
as a resource for people who are affected by, and infected with, HIV. Can you talk about the two-fold goal of OPT-in
for life? >> Yeah. OPT-in for life is our own brand that we’ve
created. It means opportunities for prevention and
treatment. So, OPT-in. It’s a positive message that we want people
to find out about their HIV, get tested, get in care, and get under control. We know that — behind the OPT-in project
is a couple important facts. The OPT-in project is aimed, really, at youth
and young adults. Because we know that, on the one hand, youth
and young adults are — who are infected, are least likely to know that they’re infected
or to be in care, and therefore, not to be on treatment. We also know that the same population of youth
and young adults are very tied to social media. They’re tied to their phones, to their apps,
to social media sites — Facebook, Twitter, and everything else. So, with funding through the — through HRSA
— through the Ryan White program, which funds HIV care throughout the nation, we’ve received
this funding. And, it’s a collaborative program that we’ve
created with Penn State Hershey, and Pinnacle Health, Alder Health Services in Harrisburg,
and Hamilton Health. We’re all part of this collaborative, where
we are focusing on our populations in the greater Harrisburg area, of youth and young
adults, who are HIV positive. We want to bring them into care. And, those that are in care, we want them
to join our research program, where they can download an app that we’ve created, that will
give them abilities to communicate with us, their care providers. To be able to look at their lab and results
of testing to know that they’re under control. They can set reminders for their medications. All of these things. And, we think it’s — so far, it’s been very
successful in bringing youth and young adults into care in the greater Harrisburg area. >> Is it — it sounds like a big part of it
must be to reach people who’ve engaged in some of these behaviors that could lead to
HIV and may not realize that they may be carrying it. >> Yeah. Absolutely. And, it is youth and young adults, of course,
who are most sexually active of any age group — no surprise. And, therefore, they have a high risk of being
infected. And therefore, also infecting other people. >> And, keeping these people engaged is so
important, because I find it kind of surprising that as easy as it is to manage this illness
— or this virus, I should say, to be more correct about it — there’re so many people
who, as you mentioned, just kind of fall out of their treatment regimen. And, that can’t have a good affect. >> Yeah. I think one of the challenges is — I think
for many, HIV is sort of — they know about it. But, you know, out of sight, they don’t think
about it very much. And, I think that one of the other challenges
— you think about medications for other kinds of illnesses; they take a medication, and
they feel better with it. Well, for many of our patients who have never
been sick because of HIV, whether they take their medicine or not, whether they go to
their visits or not, they feel the same. Remember, HIV — the disease really plays
out over months and years. So, day-to-day, they don’t feel different,
whether they take or don’t take their medication. But, the key is making them understand that
in order to really have full control of this virus, and stay healthy, and never get sick
from it, they have to take this medication. One pill every day. As I say to my patients every day, you know,
it will take about 15 seconds to take that pill, swallow it down — the rest of the day
is yours. But every day, you got to take that medication
to stay healthy. >> The website is And, tell me about some of the examples of
community outreach that are happening. It sounds like, as you mentioned, because
of audience being young adults, teens — a lot of that is through the social media and
through electronic means. But, you know, what are some of those efforts
that this involves to bring those people together for this important dialogue? >> Well, once again, the major focus is social
media. But, we’re out there. We’re out in the streets. That’s what we’ve hired and collaborated with
the Alder Health Services in Harrisburg. It’s a clinic and program that serves, among
others, the LGBT community in the Greater Harrisburg area. We have Hamilton Health who is very involved
in the infected and highly affected communities, within Central Harrisburg. They’re out. We have outreach workers who are sort of traveling
around the schools and the venues, where they might people, to try and, in a sense, sell
the brand. The brand being OPT-in. And, once they get sold into the brand, maybe
they’ll get tested. Maybe they’ll get into care. And, maybe they’ll, therefore, come under
control and do well. >> It’s a good mission. Good luck with it, and thanks a lot for your
time today. Appreciate it. >> Alright. Thank you very much for having me. >> Alright. Dr. John Zurlo. He’s an infectious disease physician. Also head of the HIV/AID program, here at
Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. One last time, that website to check out is That’s OPT-in for Life — all one word — .org. And, we’ll put a link to it, as well, in the
comments below this Facebook post. Whether you’re watching this live or on playback,
we welcome your questions for Dr. Zurlo. And, we’ll track down some answers for you
about HIV and AIDs. Thanks so much for watching Ask Us Anything
About… HIV and AIDS from Penn State Health.

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