HIV Thrivers, Do We Hold a Key?

From a recent amfAR (the foundation for AIDS research) release: In the race to find effective treatments or a cure for COVID-19, researchers are now testing antiretrovirals used to treat HIV such as lopinavir, ritonavir, and another protease inhibitor called darunavir.

There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that anti-HIV drugs may be effective. Thai doctors gave lopinavir and ritonavir in combination with a flu drug to a Chinese coronavirus patient, who tested negative for the virus within two days. In Japan, a patient from Wuhan, China, was treated with just the two HIV drugs and her fever subsided within five days of being admitted to the hospital. And a report in the journal JAMA in March 2020 showed that three of five patients recovered after being treated with the same two drugs.”

This is a mouthful for the brain to digest.  Actually, many in the lay community (read: the general public, or the people most likely to be affected by CoVid-19) may be totally non-conversant in the terminology of the discussion no less the drugs that this report is scrutinizing in an effort to come up with treatment plans. And then there is the vaunted vaccine which, in reality, may be years in the future and far less effective as media hype would have us believe, particularly the early versions which tend to have a high failure rate of protection.

This is precisely where focus should be laser-directed right now.  We have the drugs.  They are on the shelves, in production, in development, all the time; new ones arriving seemingly monthly.  This antiviral deluge could spell the best option we have for gaining back the world around us in a much less onerous manner than those being proposed right now; all or nothing.  

Are our only choices Masks and Isolation?

There happens to be a cohort of individuals who just might hold some clues to both treatments and the development of a vaccine for CoVid-19.  I live among hundreds of them.  They are my friends, my comrades in a battle none of us ever wanted to wage but we have fought relentlessly. With the help of thousands of great minds and critical thinkers who worked desperately for over forty years now (remember that; Forty. Years.), these anti-retroviral drugs they have conjured from the depths of the deep wells of scientific acumen have literally saved millions of lives worldwide already. 

So, we talk about lost generations. Gen Z is atwitter about this, their au courant version of 9/11.  Italy and others are mourning the solitude and isolation that a generation of elders, removed from sight from all but the spaceage-ish costumed attendants who ushered them out of this world, suffered to their ends.

Yet there is a generation of men, mostly, who witnessed the mass murder of almost all of their friends and families forty years ago.  We are the gay men and women who watched our nascent movement of social progress be wiped out.  It almost felt targeted.  Because in many ways, it was.

Back then President Reagan would not utter the words HIV/AIDS in public until forced to by world and national circumstance.  From an article on VOX:

Here’s the first exchange between Larry Speakes (Whitehouse Press Secretary) and journalist Lester Kinsolving from 1982, when nearly 1,000 people had died from AIDS:

Lester Kinsolving: Does the president have any reaction to the announcement by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta that AIDS is now an epidemic in over 600 cases?

Larry Speakes: AIDS? I haven’t got anything on it.

Lester Kinsolving: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” [Press pool laughter.] No, it is. It’s a pretty serious thing. One in every three people that get this have died. And I wonder if the president was aware of this.

Larry Speakes: I don’t have it. [Press pool laughter.] Do you?

Lester Kinsolving: You don’t have it? Well, I’m relieved to hear that, Larry! [Press pool laughter.]

Larry Speakes: Do you?

Lester Kinsolving: No, I don’t.

Larry Speakes: You didn’t answer my question. How do you know? [Press pool laughter.]

Lester Kinsolving: Does the president — in other words, the White House — look on this as a great joke?

Larry Speakes: No, I don’t know anything about it, Lester.

It was treated as Comic Relief, and not a charity concert.  The HIV virus was discovered in 1981.  Reagan’s first ever mention of the word was not until 1985.  And then, not again until two speeches in 1987.  This was a shocking lack of leadership that undoubtedly hindered the development of treatment drugs.  Those drugs that have kept me and thousands like me alive now for decades we thought we would never know, loves we were sure we would never have, and for our families who were certain we were going to leave them far too soon.

If this sounds all too familiar, it is.  This time we don’t have “The Great Communicator” in charge, we have someone much more malevolent and vicious.  He, too, saw this as a nothing-burger.  I won’t rehash the thousands of missteps, mistakes, and mismanagement that have left America the object of a particular pathetic pity-party.  They are there for history to record and the future to playback, as we do now with the Reagan era.

But now, right now, in one consolidated locale, there is literally a generation of survivors of an historic plague, another virus, which continues to kill today but has been mitigated into a class of a manageable, lifetime, syndrome.  There is still no vaccine. But we live on.  From The Desert Sun (Nov. 2017)

A new report found that 5,000 people—about 2,000 more than originally estimated— were living with HIV/AIDS in 2016 in the Coachella Valley and other parts of eastern Riverside County.”  

Many of these 5,000+ persons are on exactly the same drugs now under scrutiny to treat CoVid-19.  Use them.  Use us. Study us. Isolate our data from the rest of the herd and see what we are up to in relation to this virus.  Do we have a leg up on an immunity of sorts?  Are we more or maybe less likely to become infected?  If infected, are we more or less likely to develop severe or not so severe case?  So many questions, so many waiting points of data to possibly help answer them.

In the meantime, for all the mask/no-maskers out there, for all the “you can’t tell me what to do” deniers of fact; all those who bristle, curse, and rage when ask them to please, for my sake, pull up your mask, it’s the least you can do, a very simple truth.

While HIV is not a coronavirus per se, it IS a virus.  It is well worth considering that after 40 years of intensive study and millions upon millions of deaths, there is still no vaccine for HIV.  The current crop of experts is quietly warning us, under the guise of setting expectations, that any vaccine progress will be painstakingly slow, full of false starts, and provide only limited protections for limited variables at first.  As with all vaccines, they improve with age and seasoning but that seasoning takes seasons, many seasons, of trial and error before a technique is crafted to make the most effect viral blocker we can.

So, masks are here to stay.  Life is very different than we expected.  Get used to it.

But for heaven’s sake, start testing, poking, prodding, and examining the cohort of HIV long-term thrivers in front of you!  Just as we were in the 1980’s and beyond, we are ready to throw ourselves at science once again in the hopes of helping everyone else around the world.

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