It is March! This means that I have exactly two months to raise some donations for the AIDS Walk Kansas City. Every year I end up doing a series of posts about why I walk. Since I've been on a mission to make science and the scientific process easier to understand, I thought I'd start out this year's fundraising post with some basic information on HIV. So often we are hit with statistics regarding the number of new cases or the number of deaths associated with this virus and yes, the numbers are scary and at times shocking, but they don't really tell us the why. I've always been a person to ask for the why of something. The statistics tend to distance us from how the disease works and the havoc it wrecks on the human body. Having knowledge of what HIV/AIDS physically looks like gives the disease a more personal face.
HIV is a virus that attacks the CD4 cells (also referred to as T cells) in our bodies. CD4 cells are crucial in helping our bodies fight off infections. HIV targets these cells and then uses them to create more HIV. It basically turns your CD4 cells into teeny tiny HIV factories. The CD4 cell stops doing what it is supposed to do because it is now tied up in making long chains of HIV proteins, leaving your body susceptible to any and all kinds of outside infections. AIDs.gov is a good resource for information on how the HIV virus works.
We now have various antiviral drugs that attack HIV at different stages in its life cycle. This is why someone diagnosed with HIV is given a combination of these medicines. There is a drug to keep the virus from attaching to the CD4 cell. This keeps new viruses from spreading. Then there are drugs that inhibit or block certain actions of the virus once it attaches to the CD4 cell. These drugs lower the amount of new viruses being made. If you look at the HIV Life Cycle picture, you will see a tiny stop sign in five of the seven stages. Each one of those stop signs represents a class of drugs that inhibit or stop that stage of the life cycle. That one class of drug could have ten different forms, each causing various side effects or general effectiveness.
A HIV patient can be taking at least five different antiviral drugs a day with some of those costing thousands of dollars a month. The proteinase inhibitors run around $1500 for sixty capsules. Treatment is expensive. Living a healthy long life with HIV is expensive. Luckily, there are programs that help reduce the out of pocket costs for these patients. Those programs get funding from AIDS Walk related charity events. Every dollar I raise for AIDS Walk Kansas City stays in Kansas City to help pay for treatment, testing and education. This is my way of helping my community. Healthy people make for a healthy, happier community.
Of course, my ultimate wish would be that we would stop seeing new cases of HIV every year. Did you know that that 22% of new reported HIV cases in the US were in people aged 15 to 23? I have friends I went to high school with who now have children in this age group, but this is a side rant. We should not being seeing any new cases period because we know how to prevent this disease. That being said, the least we can do for those people with HIV and the families of those infected is help with the financial burden of the disease. I mean, imagine if you had to pay full out of pocket costs for these drugs in order to keep your child alive and healthy. This is one of the many reasons why I walk.
Please feel free to make a donation to my AIDS Walk Charity page. Thank you!