Dr. Srikant Hari was taking his usual 10 am metro to the hospital where he consulted. A fellow commuter noticed the red cross on his bag and questioned the Doctor, “Oh! You’re a Doctor!”
The doctor politely nodded yes. On being prodded about his specialization, Doctor responded that he usually works with HIV patients.
“HIV?” pat came to the reply, “Must be so depressing telling people that they’re going to die!”
Noticing an all-too-common case of misconception about HIV, Doctor sprung into action. “No, no!” he replied, “Hearing the word ‘HIV’ alarms people, and the virus is often perceived as a death knell. However, HIV today can be managed just as easily as any other disease or disorder like High BP or Diabetes!”
The commuter was surprised! “Really?!” he questioned.
The doctor continued, “Yes. See… HIV is a retrovirus and a retrovirus thrives by replicating itself, that is, making copies of itself inside its host’s body’s cells. And the cells that HIV targets are the same cells that help your body fight against infections! That’s what makes HIV so dangerous, if untreated… But thankfully now, we have extremely effective treatment for HIV!”
The commuter prodded further, “Treatment? Does that mean HIV can be cured?”
“No, unfortunately, we do not have a cure for HIV yet. But through treatment, the virus can be contained effectively. The efficacy of the treatment is very good. Once the virus is undetectable in the bloodstream, the person leads a good quality of life, on par with a person who’s not affected by the virus,” the Doctor replied.
“Oh! That’s nice… So you must ask your patients to see you immediately when they feel sick!”
“HIV treatment must begin immediately. Not just when the person feels unwell. Regardless of how long ago the person contracted the virus or how good he feels, the treatment must start immediately upon diagnosis!”
“But what about the side effects, doctor?”
“Like almost every other medicine, even HIV treatment has side effects. Nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and headaches are common side effects that are reported. But these can be managed under proper medical supervision.”
“That’s amazing, doctor! I didn’t know the medical field had made this much progress in tackling HIV! How long do the patients have to keep taking medication?” the commuter asked as he got up, in anticipation of disembarking at his station.
“Patients need to take medication for HIV for the rest of their lives. If they stop treatment, the viral load of the virus can go up quickly again and cause damage to their immune system as well as spread to others through unprotected sex or shared syringe use,” the Doctor replied.
“Okay, Doctor… This was quite informative, but I need to get down here. HIV doesn’t sound like a definite death sentence any more thanks to your insights on this topic!” the commuter signed off as the train halted at his station.
“No worries! The pleasure is mine… Glad I could educate you about HIV!” The doctor waved goodbye to the commuter as the latter got off the train.