ORLANDO, Fla. – As Central Florida observes World AIDS Day, one infectious disease center is working to get results to help combat the virus.
Federico Hinestrosa, director of clinic operation at the Orlando Immunology Center, said he and his team are offering post- and pre-exposure prevention medication for HIV.
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Florida currently ranks second in the nation for the highest rates of new HIV cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of 2021, there were 38.4 million people in the world living with HIV and 4,708 new diagnoses in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Health.
“I think those numbers are teaching us to... to do a better job in terms of outreach,” Hinestrosa said.
Doctors said medicine has come a long way to the point where a person living with HIV can become undetectable and once undetectable, they can no longer transmit the virus.
The center is now even making new strides in research with a clinical trial for a therapeutic vaccine that may create a functional cure.
“Not for the person who is negative, but for the person who is positive,” Hinestrosa said. “(It’s) also a vaccine that is kind of teaching the immune system how to defend itself against HIV without having the presence of mediation.”
Marshall Turner, director of operations for the LGBTQ Center of Orlando, said this is good news for those impacted by the virus.
“I think that would help eliminate the stigma that was created in the 80s of, ‘You’re dirty, you’re going to die,’ even though that’s no longer the case,” Turner said.
Turner said he’s hopeful of the results but added even if a functional cure is created, safe sex practices are still important.
“Because there are many other things besides HIV, safer sex practices are still the best way to go,” Turner said,
The Orlando Immunology Center said it’s still too early to see any results from the therapeutic vaccine, but the center is continually working with other trials to further combat HIV or AIDS.
Gabriella Rodriguez, who works with the Central Florida HIV Council, also added observing World AIDS Day is crucial.
“I think it is important to recognize the lack of conversation, the importance of conversation, so I think days like World AIDS Day allow us to highlight that,” Rodriguez said.
She helps run the annual vigil, which was held at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre and is meant to honor those impacted by HIV or AIDS, even showing News 6 a quilt that memorializes those who have passed away due to the disease.
Both OIC and the LGBTQ Center urge people to get tested and offer tests for those who wish to take it. For more information, click here.
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