Our understanding of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has come a long way since it was first named in 1986. Yet little of this new information about the virus, which still infects 50,000 new people each year in the United States, seems to have made its way into the general public. A research project out of UNC called 2BeatHIV is trying to change that.
Infection with HIV, which causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) over time, was once a death sentence. But thanks to three decades of intensive study by researchers all over the world, HIV/AIDS has become a manageable chronic infection. With proper treatment, HIV-positive individuals enjoy a near normal life expectancy and researchers are hopeful that an effective vaccine could be developed in the coming years.
But no one, it seems, has told the general public. Despite landmark study results about treatment as prevention being released in 2011 and 2015 by UNC researchers, 44 percent of Americans believe that anti-HIV medications do not prevent the spread of HIV. The survey, conducted by The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation, also found that more than a third of respondents (34 percent) incorrectly thought HIV could be transmitted by sharing a drinking glass, touching a toilet seat or swimming in a pool with someone living with HIV.
This has obvious repercussions for people living with the virus and the stigma that continues to be associated with it. The goal of 2BeatHIV is to get the public informed about HIV and invested in finding a cure for the disease.
The project, which is nested within UNC’s searcHIV working group, is headed up by Allison Mathews, PhD, a post-doc with a dual appointment in both the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases and the Department of Social Medicine.