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U of M expert perspective: Access to treatment is critical to the decline in HIV infection rates

Worldwide HIV infection rates have fallen by a third since 2001 according to new data  released earlier this week by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

According to the report, 2.5 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2011, down from 3.2 million in 2001. More specifically, new HIV infection rates for children saw a reduction of 52 percent since 2001, while  new infections among adults and children combined fell 33 percent in the same time period.

AIDS-related deaths have also dropped 30 percent from 2005, their highest point on record.

UNAIDS cites an increase in domestic HIV and AIDS-related spending on research, treatment and prevention efforts, as well as more effective treatment options as difference makers behind the decline in new infections.

“I think the decline in new HIV infections speaks to the tremendous success of programs like the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and others that have  made therapy available worldwide to many people with HIV,” said University of Minnesota infectious disease expert Timothy Schacker, M.D., a specialist in HIV and AIDS-related treatment and research .  “When patients receive treatment for their infection they’re less likely to pass the virus on to sexual partners or children during birth.  The latest report by UNAIDS is excellent news, but it also highlights all of the work that lies ahead.”

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U of M researchers land $5.7M grant to employ a new approach in the fight against HIV

Researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Program in HIV Medicine have been awarded a $5.7 million grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to test a new treatment approach in the fight against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

In clinical trials supported by the latest grant, University researchers will employ an FDA-approved drug with anti-fibrotic and anti-inflammatory properties to reverse the inflammatory damage caused by HIV replication in lymphatic tissues in an attempt to restore the population of immune cells (CD4 cells) that are essential for normal immune responses.

If successful, the trials could point to a new adjunctive therapy for HIV that could improve immune function and lead to a functional cure for the disease. The approach could also help protect HIV infected people from diseases associated with ongoing inflammation like heart attacks, blood clots and cancer.

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Should HIV screening be universal for U.S. teenagers and adults?

Teenagers and adults aged 15 to 65 should receive universal HIV screening to prevent the spread of infection and to get those who are infected into treatment faster, according to new recommendations from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF).

The task force also found all pregnant women should be screened for HIV, including women who are in labor but whose HIV status is unknown.

According to University of Minnesota infectious disease expert Timothy Schacker, M.D., the recommendations could be a positive step in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

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