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Can Facebook, Twitter prevent HIV spread?

Written by Editorial Team |Published : October 30, 2014 2:14 PM IST

According to a new study published in the journal Cell Press, posts on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter could go a long way in controlling the spread of HIV.

Although some of the early applications of social media are focused on reliably monitoring spread of diseases such as the flu, Sean Young of the Center for Digital Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles said that these applications are at an in the early stages of testing how powerful these technologies would be. With the right tools in place, social media could offer a rich source of psychological and health-related data generated in an environment in which people are often willing to share freely. His recent work on Behavioral Insights on Big Data (BIBD) for HIV offers the tantalizing possibility that insights gleaned from social media could be used to help governments, public health departments, hospitals, and caretakers monitor people's health behaviors 'to know where, when, and how we might be able to prevent HIV transmission.' (Read: Rapid HIV tests to detect ailment in 15-20 minutes!)

Young details a social-media-based intervention in which African American and Latino men who have sex with men shared a tremendous amount of personal information through social media, including when or whether they had 'come out,' as well as experiences of homelessness and stigmatization. What's more, they found that people who discussed HIV prevention topics on social media were more than twice as likely to later request an HIV test. (Read: HIV diagnosis 5 tests to detect a recent HIV infection)

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In the context of HIV prevention, tweets have also been shown to identify people who are currently or were soon to engage in sexual- or drug-related risk behaviors. Those tweets could be mapped to particular locations and related to actual HIV trends. Young said there was a need for updated infrastructure and sophisticated toolkits to handle all of those data, noting that there are about 500 million communications sent every day on Twitter alone.

Although privacy concerns about such uses of social media shouldn't be ignored, Young said there was evidence that people had already begun to accept such uses of social media, even by corporations looking to boost profits. (Read: 9 factors that increase your risk for HIV)

What is the treatment for HIV? Is there a cure for HIV?

The two main goals of HIV treatment are

  • to prevent the virus from damaging the immune system
  • to halt or delay the progress of the infection

Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs are used for treating and preventing HIV infection. They stop or interfere with the reproduction of the virus in the body.

HIV therapy includes combinations of drugs. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) consisting of combination of three or more antiretroviral drugs to suppress the virus. ART does not cure HIV infection. It controls replication of the virus thereby strengthening an individual s immune system to fight off infections. These drugs must be taken at the right time every day. Incorrect or inconsistent therapy can mutate the virus causing resistance to treatment. In such cases, other medication options must be used. The amount of the virus in the blood (viral load) is measured to monitor the efficacy of the treatment. The goal of treatment is to get an undetectable viral load in lab tests.

Can treatment prevent HIV from advancing to AIDS?

Yes. Treatment with anti-HIV medications prevents the virus from multiplying and destroying the immune system, thus helping the body fight off infections and cancers and preventing HIV from advancing to AIDS.

Can HIV be prevented?

By limiting exposure to risk factors, a person can reduce the risk of HIV infection. The preventive measures include:

Correct and consistent use of condoms can protect against the spread of HIV.

Antiretroviral drugs taken by the HIV-negative partner can be effective in preventing acquisition from an infected partner. This is called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) - WHO recommends that countries implement demonstration projects on PrEP for serodiscordant couples and men and transgender women who have sex with men. Read more about Living with HIV diagnosis, treatment and prevention

With inpts from ANI

Photo source: Getty images

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