Not so long ago, it was pure fantasy to imagine that someone with HIV could live to a ripe old age. But today that’s exactly what researchers are beginning to suggest. At least one credible study makes the case that people with the virus can live as long — and in some cases longer — than their HIV negative counterparts.
The study took a look at nearly 23,000 people with HIV who were taking the medication, in the U.S. and Canada, spanning 2000 to 2007. It found that, among certain subgroups, estimated life span was equal or greater than the general population.
The devil is in the details, of course. The same social and economic barriers that affect most every other aspect of life also affects the longevity of people with HIV.
But we’re taking this as a very, very good sign, so let’s keep up the good work boys, and let’s keep looking for ways we can get similar results for all poz folks rather than just the most fortunate among us.
Here are five reasons HIV positive guys are living longer…
1. The sooner you know, the better.
You can’t do a damn thing about your HIV if you don’t know you have it. Those who get tested regularly and identify their HIV infection early on are in a much better position to address it successfully.
Speaking of which…
2. Early treatment is the biggest factor in living a normal life span.
The study found that the group who did best started HIV treatment before their t-cells fell below 350. This t-cell number has become a common marker for when to begin taking medications, but not everyone strictly follows it. The men studied who did start treatment with higher t-cells have a life expectancy of 75 years overall, which is equal to the national average for men.
Gay men who started treatment early got two bonus years, with an average life expectancy of 77 years. That’s over the national average for men.
3. Guys living with HIV are receptive to preventative health measures.
Whether is it nutrition, exercise, or taking an aspirin each day to prevent a heart attack or stroke, men living with HIV have more skin in the game. But they aren’t coming up with these ideas all by themselves. They are more likely to know about them because…
4. Gay men living with HIV have a better connection to health care.
Something or another is going to kill us all eventually, but guys with HIV are often more closely monitored than the rest of us. Consistent visits to the doctor as we age means regular blood screenings and physical examinations. Other conditions are more likely to be identified and addressed earlier than among the population at large.
5. Sadly, social and economic realities play a large role in longevity.
Increased life span for people with HIV suffers from the same barriers as does treatment and prevention: lopsided outcomes between the haves and the have-nots. While relatively privileged gay men enjoy better access to health care and treatment, those living in poverty or who are disenfranchised by racism and homophobia do not fare as well.
In fact, successful outcomes for people with HIV have a much to do with social issues — stigma, poverty, shame, isolation — as it does with early treatment. One stifles the other.
There is a quantity vs. quality argument to be made. While treatment side effects have been minimized in recent years, people with HIV have the burden of the sheer expense of health care and treatment, not to mention the social stigma that continues to plague gay men. That’s why guys with HIV have become so vocal about fighting prejudice and educating others. Fighting back is good for your health.
The bottom line: if you are sexually active and at risk, get tested every few months. Reduce your exposure through safer sex and new prevention techniques like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
Should you test positive, do everything you can to take advantage of treatments that can mean a long and engaged life ahead.