Preventable, treatable but not yet curable: HIV remains a threat in Montana

Preventable, treatable but not yet curable, HIV remains a threat in Montana as well as elsewhere in the nation. State-supported HIV treatment and prevention programs are committed to reducing the epidemic in Montana by facilitating planning, implementing strategic HIV prevention activities and ensuring access to HIV treatment.

“There are over 630 persons living with HIV in Montana, and an average of 20 to 30 new infections reported annually,” said Judy Nielsen, manager of the DPHHS section that addresses HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).  While the number of new HIV infections has been stable, the recent increase in other STDs in Montana, including syphilis, leads officials to be concerned that the number of new HIV infections could rise. STDs such as syphilis can result in ulcers or lesions that increase a person’s susceptibility to infection with HIV.

To lower an individual’s risk of HIV-infection, public health authorities recommend the following:

Stopping injection and other drug use can lower your chances of getting or transmitting HIV. If you keep injecting drugs, use only sterile needles and works. Never share needles or works.

The most reliable way to avoid infection from sex is to not have sex- also known as abstinence. If you are sexually active, reduce the number of sexual partners or remain in a long-term mo-nogamous relationship.

Talk to your partner about HIV and other STDs and use latex condoms every time you have sex.

Have an honest and open discussion with your health care provider about your sexual history and ask if you should be tested for STDs, including HIV. Your provider can also discuss vaccines for conditions like hepatitis B and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), both of which can be transmitted sexually.

For those at highest risk for acquiring HIV, ask your provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis, commonly known as PrEP.

PrEP is a recent advance in the field of HIV prevention, involving the use of medication taken by persons at high risk for acquiring HIV.  PrEP consists of taking a daily pill and has been proven to reduce the risk of infection if a person is exposed to HIV.

In addition to PrEP, HIV prevention and treatment networks in the state are working to ensure access to HIV medication in an effort to reduce the amount of virus in the blood of those already infected.  HIV medication suppresses the virus to undetectable levels, a critically important intervention that improves quality of life and decreases the risk of HIV transmission. 

Increasing the number of persons living with HIV/AIDS with undetectable viral loads helps prevent transmission and is an essential part of prevention. Montana medical providers, case managers and HIV prevention specialists can assist persons with HIV to obtain care. 

The work of these professionals has helped Montana achieve unde-tectable viral levels in over 80% of the state’s HIV-positive individuals. This percentage of persons with viral suppression is one of highest in the nation.

Persons seeking STD or HIV testing can also consult with their health provider or their local health department. For additional information, or to find HIV counseling and testing services near you, visit the DPHHS website at  



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