March 26, 2010
About 100 patients and providers from across Northern Ontario gathered this week for the 17th annual Opening Doors Conference on HIV/AIDS. Keynote speaker Dr. Mark Wainberg warned that HIV/AIDS complacency is a growing problem.
While new drug therapies allow HIV/AIDS patients to live healthier, more productive lives, they have also given people the false impression that contracting the disease is no big deal, said Wainberg.
"HIV infection rates are actually increasing because of behavioral disinhibition," said Wainberg, a professor at McGill University's Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Pediatrics and Medicine, and a founder of the Canadian Association for HIV Research. "People are not concerned about getting HIV because they know the drugs work." He continued, however, "They don't always work. That's what we need to get across: Having HIV is a terrible thing. It's not a panacea. It's a bad thing to have. Don't get HIV-infected."
HIV patients can develop resistance to antiretrovirals, which have toxic side effects. "The drugs work but don't work perfectly," Wainberg said. People with HIV are also at increased risk of other long-term health concerns such as heart disease and various cancers.
Wainberg cited a study conducted among 600 Quebec men, most of whom were gay. It found that up to half of those testing positive for HIV likely acquired the virus from someone newly infected. The findings indicate the need for wide-scale use of rapid-result HIV testing, particularly among groups at higher risk, said Wainberg. "During the three weeks of waiting [for results from traditional HIV testing], people who don't know they're positive might be engaging in high-risk behavior in transmitting the virus," he explained. "People will modify the risk if they know."