Among the many lessons we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, one is the importance of testing for the sake of disease prevention.
The same goes for other viral infections, like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The CDC recommends everyone between the ages of 13-64 get tested at least once in their lifetime.
Dr. Amy Hulme, assistant professor of biomedical sciences at Missouri State University, studies HIV replication. She echoes the CDC testing recommendation.
“In the U.S., one in seven people who are HIV positive don’t know they are HIV positive,” she said. “It takes eight to 10 years for symptoms to fully develop, so it is important to test even when there are no visible signs.”
What is HIV?
According to the CDC, HIV attacks the body’s immune system. If left untreated, HIV can progress to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Treatments and prevention efforts have progressed over the years, but there is still no cure for HIV.
Hulme’s research targets the initial replication steps of the virus in cells. She looks at the processes between the time HIV enters the cell, up to the point when the virus converts its RNA into DNA and integrates into the cellular DNA. These processes, called reverse transcription and integration, are what allow HIV to hardwire itself to cells in the body.
“The goal is to learn more about how HIV replicates in cells,” Hulme said. “Because if we know more about that process, we’ll be better at stopping it.”
Learning how to stop the uncoating step can essentially block the virus from replicating. This would be a game changer for HIV treatment and prevention.
“We’re contributing to the broader community of scientific knowledge about this process,” Hulme said. “Companies and people with a more clinical interest can then build on our research to develop a drug.”
Looking to the future of HIV
Much progress has been made since Hulme began studying HIV in 2008, and since the virus first appeared in the U.S. over 40 years ago. But there is still a long way to go.
“Continued education on transmission, prevention and treatment is crucial,” Hulme said. “Getting diagnosed with HIV/AIDS doesn’t mean the patient is going to die. We have good drug treatments that have turned what was a death sentence 40 years ago into a chronic health condition.”
National HIV/AIDS Testing Day is June 27. Testing for HIV is a proven way to reduce transmission.
AIDS Project of the Ozarks offers walk-in testing Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9-11:30 a.m. and 1-3:30 p.m.