HELENA – The world turned its attention Friday to those living with HIV/AIDS for World AIDS Day. Since 1988, World AIDS Day has drawn attention to the potentially deadly disease and helped people unite and show support for those living with the disease.

Montana state health officials also called attention to the disease on Friday hoping to increase awareness about risks, prevention and treatment.

Judy Nielsen, HIV/STD/hepatitis prevention section supervisor for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, said over 600 people in Montana are living with HIV.
While the disease is less prevalent in Montana than in other states, Nielsen said there is still reason to be concerned.

“HIV has moved from a devastating death sentence to a chronic manageable disease, so people have sort of assumed that it isn’t out there anymore,” Nielsen said.

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With treatment available, some people have begun letting their guard now, especially with regard to other types of STDs. According to DPHHS, cases of syphilis have been on the rise in Montana, leading health officials to worry that HIV may soon be on the rise as well.

“We get anywhere from 20 to 30 new cases each year,” Nielsen said of HIV.

Because HIV is treatable, Nielsen said the disease has been suppressed in 80 percent of the state’s HIV-positive individual. In that suppressed state, the disease is undetectable.

Preventative measures are also available before an outbreak of HIV can occur. For high-risk individuals, DPPHS recommends asking your doctor about pre-exposure prophylaxis, commonly known as PrEP. The daily medication can reduce the risk of infection if a person is exposed to HIV.

For more information about HIV prevention and treatment, click here.

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