Thousands are living with HIV in North Texas

Charlie Sheen's revelation on Tuesday underscores the impact of the disease.

DALLAS — The Resource Center in Oak Lawn sees between 350 and 500 people per month for HIV testing. 

"People come here from all over North Texas," said Ruben Ramirez, who manages the preventions program at the center's Nelson-Tebedo Clinic.

The highest rate of new HIV infections in Dallas County are among young people ages 13 to 44. Most of those infected are black and Hispanic men who have sex with other men. 

"That particular aspect of HIV infections hasn't gone away," Ramirez said.

Charlie Sheen is the most high-profile celebrity to reveal he is living with HIV since NBA star Magic Johnson. 

"With medications and proper treatment, they can live almost normal lives, said Dr. Khang Tran, chief medical officer for The Medical Center of Plano

Medical research and technological advancements have allowed better management of HIV, offering those who are infected to live longer. There is even medication that can — over time — lessen the virus to undetectable levels. 

"They're not HIV free, but it's low enough in your body where the virus has a low enough burden where it's not disrupting the immune system," Dr. Tran explained.

He added that while scientists are working toward HIV vaccines and a cure, people who are HIV-positive now have more than 30 medications from which to choose with fewer side effects. Some patients take just one pill daily, while others take multiple pills.

"That cost can be anywhere from $1,200 [per month] on up, depending on the medications that person is taking," Ramirez said.

The Centers for Disease Control is pushing a strategy called PrEP — pre-exposure prophylaxis. It gives people who don't have HIV but are living with someone who does the drugs to fight the infection. It's a way to prevent its spread. 

"As time goes by, we're getting to know HIV a little better," Ramirez said.

In addition to a cure, what's missing for many HIV patients is the emotional support from people who still don't understand the virus. 


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