Wisconsin HIV infections stabilizing over years


    Dr. Edward Morales speaks with FOX 11 anchor Mike Murad about yearly HIV infections in Wisconsin.

    (WLUK) -- The musical "Rent" aired Sunday night on FOX 11.

    It chronicles the lives of young musicians and artists living in New York during the height of the HIV and AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

    For the past couple of decades, the numbers of new HIV infections in Wisconsin have stabilized. About 250 new cases are diagnosed each year statewide, down from a high of around 600 during the early 1990s.

    "Rent" ends with the main characters, many of whom have HIV or AIDS, deciding to simply make the most of whatever time they have left.

    Today, thanks to advances in HIV medicine, that time can be more than ever before.

    "One of the things that I tell patents right away is, 'This is not a death sentence,'" says Dr. Edward Morales, an infectious disease expert with Prevea.

    Health experts say with proper treatment, people who get infected with the virus now have a better chance of living with HIV than dying from it.

    "We can do something about this," says Morales. "And if we work together we can actually impact your quality of life, and even your longevity."

    HIV is a virus spread through certain bodily fluids that attacks the body's immune system. Left untreated, HIV will eventually compromise the immune system and lead to its most severe stage: AIDS.

    Kevin Roeder is vice president of operations at the 10 AIDS Resource Centers of Wisconsin, including the Green Bay location. One thing working against ending HIV is the stigma that’s it’s still considered a gay disease.

    "Folks are still worried about who knows the status," says Roeder. "They have concerns about who they tell, and if their employer is aware of it. That is still a concern, and so many people are still dealing with that dark cloud of stigma."

    Education about how HIV is transmitted has also made a positive impact in bringing down the numbers.

    "Back in the day, we had safer sex campaigns, we had needle exchange programs, we had condom distribution programs and they were met with a high degree of controversy," says Roeder. "Today we know that those actually work."

    And Morales says those practices need to continue, along with improved medicine, in the fight to eliminate HIV and AIDS entirely.

    "Even though therapies are effective, the therapies are limited," says Morales. "I think that we shouldn’t be complacent in the fact that because we have treatment, people are doing better, that that’s something we should let our guard down. Once you get infected right now, you have it for the rest of your life."

    Even though life today with HIV can look a lot different than it did 30 years ago.

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