Dane Zahner, an HIV Alliance prevention and education manager, and Rachel Nedwick of the HIV Alliance on Monday, Feb. 4 taught students about Oregon’s HIV and hepatitis C programs and prevention strategies.

Zahner defined the human immunodeficiency virus. “It is a deadly disease that will kill you and make you very sick. It’s not only a disease; it’s a powerful virus.” He also reminded how HIV is transferred. “A lot of people get HIV/AIDS from having sex with different people such as bi-sexual, gay, transgender partners or any men or women with unprotected sex or without a condom,” he said. “Unprotected sex is not safe at all with very high risk of HIV and getting AIDS. There are so many people throughout the whole United States who get tested for AIDS and HIV every day and come out with a positive test.”

During the presentation, Zahner warned the group of about 35 students of the outcomes of unprotected sex. He especially warned that many people don’t care about having safe sex and do not realize that they may give their partner AIDS or STDs. He then described how AIDS kills a person slowly and painfully, often tearing people’s families apart.

The students also learned how AIDs is spread. “AIDS is spread by the man’s semen and the woman’s vaginal fluids while having sex,” Zahner said. The U.S. HIV government website adds, “Only certain body fluids—blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk—from a person who has HIV can transmit HIV. These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to occur. Mucous membranes are found inside the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth.”

Throughout Oregon, offices on HIV Alliance and hepatitis C reach out to help positive HIV patients with AIDS and their families. There are HIV Alliance offices in Douglas, Lane, Coos, Curry and Joseph counties. “Basically, we give screenings to individuals who may be or are at risk. We offer sexual health surveys to those who need the help,” Zahner explained.

Swanson recommended that HIV testing should be done at least once for everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 with testing for HIV, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea done once a year for people sexually active with more than one partner. Swanson added, “Some may benefit from frequent testing every three to six months. STI tests are available on Mondays and Fridays at HIV Alliance in Eugene at their office. They help OHP patients.” The office is at 1195a City View Street, In 2017, 950,000 people died from HIV/AIDS because a cure or medication that would appropriately fight the virus was unavailable. “Now, there are five different medications for people who are positive for HIV/AIDS. The meds are spendy though. We estimated about $45,000 to $85,000 a year on meds for people who can’t afford them or don’t have medical insurance,” Zahner said.

Medication strategies for HIV are known as PReP and PEP. PrEP is “pre exposure prophylaxis” with HIV medication like Truvada that is taken before possible exposure to HIV. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation states that “Truvada for PrEP provides 92%-99% reduction in HIV risk for HIV-negative individuals who take the pills every day as directed.” PEP stands for post exposure prophylaxis. According to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, “Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is an HIV prevention strategy where HIV-negative individuals take HIV medications after coming into contact with HIV to reduce their risk of becoming infected. PEP is a month-long course of drugs and must be started within 72 hours after possible exposure.” Zahner said “The medicines for HIV patients work wonders now and keep you healthy and alive while having AIDS. If you had a sexual intercourse without condoms with somebody, and they tell you they may have HIV/AIDS, you literally have 72 hours to get to the hospital and start an IV with medications.”

“The most common way to get HIV is when people use needles that are injected into their arms. Sharing equipment that is not safe, clean or sterilized can definitely cause the other partner if not both to get HIV/AIDS,” Zahner said. Zahner recommends asking for financial assistance if needed for medications. Swanson explained that there is a financial aid assistance to lower the cost of medications, but again the medications are not cheap. “Thankfully, there are several payment assistance programs,” Swanson said. Zahner and Swanson also discussed hepatitis C. “Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus. It’s a larger risk with drug use mainly.

People who inject drugs can die from hepatitis C, but now there are medications to prevent patients from suffering as badly,” Swanson said. Swanson.also warned that anyone who works in an environment where they may have been exposed or have come in contact with hepatitis C blood should get tested.