Montana health officials are taking advantage of World AIDS Day to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS.
RiverStone Health in Billings provides information, resources and care for those infected through its program, Ryan White Services.
The population at most risk of contracting HIV and AIDS is men who have sex with men. Another at risk population in Montana is younger men.
The last few cases this year in Yellowstone County were seen in males 18- to 26-years old, according to prevention health specialist Jace Dyckman. He said almost 700 people are living with HIV in the state of Montana.
He said that number grows by between 20 and 24 people annually. He said that’s stayed pretty consistent over the last few years.
Dyckman said younger men are further removed from the HIV and AIDS epidemic of the 1980's than some older people and so haven’t seen the damage HIV can do.
Dyckman said many of the young men just don’t know enough about the reality of HIV and AIDS.
“Some of the pharmaceutical companies are advertising HIV as, ‘take a pill, and you’ll have a wonderful, healthy life,’” said Dyckman. “So, I think their thought process is, ‘Well, I’ll take a pill and I’ll be fine.’ They don’t understand the ramifications of long-term infection, having to take those meds every day. So, I think it’s just a generation that’s coming up with HIV, and they’re pretty ignorant about HIV and what HIV can do.”
There are more treatments available than ever before to help avoid the spread of HIV.
Dyckman said people with HIV who take their medication have a lower risk of spreading the virus to an uninfected partner. He also said there’s a preventative medication called PREP that decreases the likelihood of passing HIV along.
He said PREP’s been around for roughly 5-or 6-years on the east and west coast, and in Montana for the last 3 or so years. Dyckman said at Riverstone Health about 15- or 20-patients are on PREP, but he said it’s not a substitute for condoms and safe sex.
Dyckman said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises sexually active individuals with multiple partners and intravenous drug users to be tested every 4- to 6-months. He said it takes at least 3 months after exposure for an accurate test result.