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Valleywise Health medical director says HIV still prominent in community

FILE - This electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health shows a human T cell, in blue, under attack by HIV, in yellow, the virus that causes AIDS. The virus specifically targets T cells, which play a critical role in the body's immune response against invaders like bacteria and viruses. Colors were added by the source. (Seth Pincus, Elizabeth Fischer, Austin Athman/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/NIH via AP)

PHOENIX – Treatment for HIV has dramatically shifted over the years, but misconceptions continue around the virus.

Dr. Ann Khalsa is the medical director at Valleywise Community Health Center – McDowell and an HIV specialist with more than 30 years of experience. She believes misconceptions around the once deadly virus have now caused more people to get exposed to HIV.

“The biggest misconception about HIV today is thinking that it’s no longer a problem,” Khalsa said. “Just because people aren’t dying of AIDS anymore … unfortunately, the virus infection is still very prominent in the community and many are not aware of it.”

Today, more than 11,000 people in Maricopa County live with HIV and the county has among the highest rates of new infections in the country.

Roughly one in seven people don’t know they have HIV.

Although there is still no cure, newer drugs have made HIV a survivable condition that is treatable with a single daily pill.

The medication is more than 99% effective in trying to prevent HIV acquisition.

On top of that, if one medication doesn’t work or causes side effects, there are many other options.

The McDowell Valleywise Community Health Center has the largest HIV treatment clinic in the state.

The clinic treats roughly 4,000 patients who are HIV positive and treats another 350 people with active prevention.

Khalsa described many of those newly infected as not knowing and understanding the horror of the early days when the virus was known as a death sentence.

She also believes many heterosexual patients still view HIV as a homosexual disease rather than a sexually transmitted disease that anyone can get.

“People need to be more aware of the fact that if you ever have had or do have now any kind of unprotected sexual contact – including within a marriage – you still need to get tested to make sure that all prior encounters did not leave you having HIV that you’re not aware of,” Khalsa said.

Khalsa strongly encourages everyone to get tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime.

Those that want to learn more about HIV prevention services at Valleywise can call 602-344-8723 or email the organization.

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