HIV rates still rising in Canada, but treatment is simpler, safer and effective

For those newly infected and diagnosed with HIV in Canada, if they seek treatment right away, the long-term outlook is quite different than it used to be.

“The news is very good compared to 20 years ago…a young person diagnosed with HIV today, a young adult, who begins therapy shortly thereafter and takes therapy every day, exactly as directed, is expected to live into their 70s, or even 80s. It’s a really good forecast, people can go back to work, people can lead a healthy life,” Sean Hosein, science and medicine editor at CATIE told Global News.

The old treatment regimens included taking handfuls of pills multiple times a day and came with side effects, now treatment can just be one pill, taken once a day.

“They were awful the old regimens” said Hosein. “Treatment is a lot simpler, it’s a lot safer and it’s better tolerated.”

Story continues below advertisement

Treatment and outlooks can be different for those who have HIV for years and delay treatment.

READ MORE: Charlie Sheen reveals he’s HIV-positive

HIV rates on the rise

Close to 73,000 Canadians are HIV-positive, and between 25-27 per cent are unaware they have the virus.

Rates of new HIV infection in Canada are on the rise, according to the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR). Young adults, aged 20-29, account for a quarter of all Canadians diagnosed with HIV or AIDS. Since 2000, the proportion of AIDS cases among youth has increased from 26.3 per cent to 43 per cent.

According to CANFAR, HIV is typically a chronic, manageable condition. While HIV-positive individuals are at a greater risk of developing infections and experiencing side effects from medication, alterations in lifestyle and attention to maintaining their drug regimen can cause for a productive, long lifespan. HIV no longer necessarily evolves into AIDS. That being said, life threatening complications can still occur when living with HIV.

There is no vaccine. Experts say condoms, if used consistently and correctly, are highly effective at preventing sexual transmission. Also, a daily pill sometimes is prescribed for healthy people to help prevent them from becoming infected by partners who have the virus, something called “pre-exposure prophylaxis.”

Story continues below advertisement

And to clear up a misconception – there is no cure for HIV.

“There is no cure for HIV right now, there are treatments that can control HIV, if taken exactly as directed, and you stay in care with your doctor you can have a near normal lifespan, but there is no cure for HIV right now,” Hosein told Global News.

Life expectancy varies in Canada

A study released in August found that Canadians diagnosed with HIV are living longer than ever, inequalities in life expectancy persist across the country.

The study, from the Canadian Observational Cohort Collaboration, indicated the overall life expectancy of Canadians undergoing antiretroviral treatment for the AIDS-causing virus had climbed to 65 years — about a 16-year jump since 2000.

READ MORE: Made-in-Canada HIV/AIDS treatment embraced by everyone but Canada

But while those increases were felt across the board, life expectancy was shown to have improved more for men than for women. People with a history of drug use and those with First Nations ancestry also didn’t experience as much of an increase.

With files from The Canadian Press

Sponsored content