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AIDS and HIV

Coronavirus risk not significantly greater for those with ‘well controlled’ HIV

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coronavirus, gay news, Washington Blade
(Image public domain)
The risk of people with HIV who are receiving standard of care treatment to control their HIV is not significantly greater than the general public for contracting or becoming seriously ill from the Coronavirus, according to the Chief Medical Officer at D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health. Dr. Sarah Henn told the Washington Blade on Friday that reports coming from China and other parts of the U.S. where the Coronavirus outbreak has begun to take hold show those at highest risk for illness from the virus are people with other chronic illnesses and elderly people, many of whom have an underlying medical condition. “So when I think of people who are at increased risk or high risk for Coronavirus I think of people who are significantly immunosuppressed,” Henn said. “I think of people who are going through cancer chemotherapy, people who are immunosuppressed with medications with a history of organ transplants, and people with a very low CD4 count and uncontrolled HIV and AIDS.” By a low CD4 count Henn was referring to the number of cells in the body that fight infection and that are suppressed by HIV but that can be restored by antiretroviral drugs available to people with HIV. When used properly, the antiretroviral drugs bring HIV to an undetectable level. “So I think for someone who has a relatively normal CD4 count but is HIV positive and their HIV is well controlled and their viral load is undetectable, I don’t foresee them as being at significantly greater risk for Coronavirus,” Henn said. “For those people there may be a very slight increased risk, but I would expect it to be very slight,” she said. But Henn added, “One thing we should think about is more than one half of our patients living with HIV in the District are over the age of 50. So that in and of itself puts them at increased risk.” Henn noted that information coming in from China, where the Coronavirus outbreak first began, shows that “older individuals tend to experience more severe or are more likely to experience more severe illness” from the Coronavirus outbreak. Henn spoke to the Blade less than a week after Whitman-Walker posted information on its website reiterating advice for avoiding Coronavirus infection released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the city’s Department of Health. Among the steps all people should take, Whitman-Walker recommends, is to wash hands often to avoid getting sick from many types of germs, including the flu; clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects like cell phones, door knobs, and work spaces using disinfectant wipes or sprays; stay home if you are coughing and or sneezing; and use a tissue to cover coughs and sneezes and quickly throw the used tissue in the trash. According to Henn, for healthy people, wearing a mask is not likely to make much of a difference in protecting them from the virus. “It’s less likely there is something in the air you’re going to breathe in,” she said. “It’s much more likely it’s something you’re going to touch and then touch your own face and mouth.” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser gave similar advice at a news conference she called Saturday night, March 7, to give an update on what she said were two known cases of people testing positive for Coronavirus in D.C. As of Sunday night, March 8, the number of known Coronavirus cases in the D.C. metro area reached nine. “As you know, over a week ago I signed a mayor’s order that directed funding and personnel to monitor, prepare for and now to respond to the Coronavirus,” Bowser told the news conference. “Our message to D.C. residents continues to be, help us prevent the spread of germs and stay informed,” she said, urging residents and visitors to keep up to date by viewing a special city website, coronavirus.dc.gov. The Washington Post reported that one of the two people in D.C. who tested positive is Rev. Timothy Cole, pastor of Christ Church of Georgetown, which cancelled its services on Sunday in what church officials said was an overabundance of caution. A church spokesperson said Cole presided over church services the previous Sunday on March 1 before having any symptoms. Bowser said the second person developed symptoms of Coronavirus while visiting D.C. before going to a hospital in Maryland for treatment. She said he was still in the hospital in Maryland as of Saturday night. The mayor said the second person, referred to as Patient 2, stayed in D.C. for one night after he arrived in the U.S. from Nigeria. In a related development, D.C. public school officials announced on Sunday that a public high school in Foggy Bottom called School Without Walls High School would be closed on Monday after it was learned that a staff member at the school came into contact with someone who tested positive for the Coronavirus. In a statement released Monday morning, the mayor’s office said the person the school employee came in contact with was Patient 2, the person who arrived in D.C. a few days earlier from Nigeria. School officials said the staff member had no symptoms and tested negative for the virus, the statement from the mayor’s office reported. The statement says that D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said officials closed the school “in an abundance of caution” so it could be thoroughly cleaned and other staff and students’ families could be notified. City health officials at the mayor’s news conference on Saturday said they expected more cases would surface in D.C. but the overall risk for a major city outbreak appears low at this time. Gay nightlife and business advocate Mark Lee, who serves as coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, a private group that represents hospitality industry businesses such as nightclubs, bars, and restaurants, said he’s confident the Coronavirus risk remains low citywide. “Hospitality and nightlife establishments are regularly focused on staff hygiene, employee health, cleaning of surfaces, food and drink safety, and guest wellbeing in order to continuously comply with strict health guidelines and operating regulations,” Lee told the Blade, “and businesses are currently redoubling this standard of best practices already in effect to ensure safe public environments and healthy workplaces,” he said. “Venue staff members ask only that customers do what they do – stay home if you’re feeling ill, take the same steps you would to avoid getting the flu, and follow the recommended personal hygiene prevention activities,” Lee told the Blade. “Most of all, use common sense and monitor city announcements on developments but don’t overreact with unwarranted fear.” Further information on Coronavirus provided by Whitman-Walker can be obtained here: Whitman-walker.org/coronavirus.
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AIDS and HIV

Federal blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men

The study is aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if they donate blood

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FDA headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland (Photo Credit: FDA/GSA)

SILVER SPRING, Md. – Washington D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Institute and the Los Angeles LGBT Center are among LGBTQ supportive organizations in eight U.S. cities working with the nation’s three largest blood donation centers on a study to find a way to significantly ease blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men or MSM.

The study, which is funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calls for recruiting a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men in eight U.S. cities selected for the study to test the reliability of a detailed donor history questionnaire aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if they donate blood.

A statement released by the study organizers says the questionnaire, which could be given to a gay or bisexual person showing up at a blood donation site, could be a replacement for the FDA’s current policy of banning men who have had sex with another man within the previous three months from donating blood.

In the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the FDA put in place a permanent ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. In 2015, with advanced HIV testing and screening techniques readily available, the FDA lifted its permanent ban on MSM blood donations and replaced it with a 12-month restriction for sexual activity between MSM.

The FDA further reduced the time of sexual abstinence for MSM to three months in 2020.

LGBTQ rights organizations and others advocating for a change in the current FDA restriction point out that at a time when the nation is facing a severe shortage of blood donations due to the COVID pandemic, the three-month donation deferral requirement for MSM is preventing a large number of blood donations from men whose risk of HIV infection is low to nonexistent.

Under the FDA-funded and initiated study, the American Red Cross, Vitalant, and OneBlood — the nation’s three largest blood donation centers — have been conducting the questionnaire testing since the study was launched in March 2021.

“To gather the necessary data, the blood centers will partner with LGBTQ+ Centers in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta,” the study organizers say in a statement on a website launched to help recruit volunteers for the study.

“The study will enroll a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men (250 – 300 from each area) who meet the study eligibility criteria,” the statement says.

Among the criteria for being eligible, the statement says, is the person must be between 18 and 39 years old, have expressed an interest in donating blood, must have had sex with at least one other man in the three months before joining the study, and must agree to an HIV test. A negative test result is also required for acceptance into the study.

The study is officially named ADVANCE, which stands for Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility.

“The ADVANCE study is a first step in providing data that will help the FDA determine if a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as effective as time-based deferral, in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” the study organizers statement says.

“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions, it could mean men who have sex with men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” the statement continues. “The ADVANCE study is groundbreaking because it’s the first time a study is being conducted that could result in individual risk assessment for men who have sex with men to donate blood,” the statement says.

The Whitman-Walker Institute, which is among the community-based organizations involved in helping organize and conduct the study, is an arm of Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive D.C. health center.

Christopher Cannon, director of Research Operations for Whitman-Walker Institute, said that since the D.C.-based part of the study was launched early last year prior to the official announcement of the study on March 20, D.C. has surpassed the original city goal of recruiting 250 participants for the study.

“We are currently at 276 as of last Friday’s report,” Cannon told the Blade in a Jan. 13 interview. “And the current goal is now 300,” he said. “So, we’re hoping to push this over that goal line in the coming days and weeks.

Cannon said that like the community organizations involved in the study in other cities, Whitman-Walker Institute’s role has been focused on recruiting gay and bisexual men to participate in the study and to send them to the American Red Cross headquarters building at 430 17th St., N.W. near the White House. That site, which serves as a blood donation center, is also serving as the site where study participants are screened, interviewed, and presented with a detailed questionnaire.

“We promote the study within ,” Cannon said. “We promote it to our networks. We did social media promotions across the city.’

Although Whitman-Walker doesn’t have the final draft of the questionnaire being presented to study participants, Cannon said he has seen “bits and pieces” of it.  

“They ask very direct questions about the person’s sex life, sexual partners, sex acts, numbers of partners,” Cannon said. “There are questions about condom use, PrEP use, drug use. How recently have you had sex? Lots of related questions,” he said.

“It’s really about trying to figure out effectively which are the best questions,” according to Cannon. “The hope is by analyzing the questions and identifying maybe the best 10 to 12 questions that can be universally used…to get the best answers that identify the individuals that may have the highest risk,” he said. Doing that, he points, out can help determine which men who have sex with men should be eligible to safely donate blood.

A statement released by Whitman-Walker last March calls the study a “monumental research effort” that has the potential to lift the stigma imposed on gay and bisexual men whose ability to donate blood is currently based on their sexual orientation.

“The ADVANCE study is designed to understand if, by asking carefully crafted and research-informed research questions, blood collectors can screen potential blood donors for their individual HIV risk factors rather than applying a ban against sexually active gay and bisexual men,” the statement says.

“The goal is to move away from overly broad questions that exclude potential donors and spread stigmatizing messages about MSM and their HIV risks,” it says.

Cannon said that as of last week, study organizers had recruited a total of 879 study participants nationwide out of the goal of 2,000 participants needed to complete the study. He said issues related to the COVID pandemic created delays in the recruitment efforts, but study organizers were hopeful the study could be completed by this summer.

Information about participating in the study or learning more about it can be obtained at advancestudy.org.

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AIDS and HIV

Peacock will premiere HIV documentary on World AIDS Day

Drew, who was diagnosed with HIV in the late 1980’s when he was only 23 years old, was not paid for his participation in the trial

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Right to Try (2021) Peacock/NBCUniversal Television and Streaming

NEW YORK — NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock will premiere the documentary short “Right to Try,” which explores one man’s search to cure his HIV, Wednesday on World AIDS Day. 

The film, produced by Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer and directed by “The Late Late Show With James Corden” producer Zeberiah Newman, follows HIV survivor and activist Jeffrey Drew’s participation in an experimental vaccine trial. 

“We are thrilled our film ‘Right to Try’ will be seen on Peacock. Though Jeffrey Drew’s heroic journey is singular, his story is universal,” Spencer said in a statement, according to Variety. “This is an important film and with Peacock we have a wonderful partner to bring it to our audience.”

Val Boreland, EVP of content acquisitions at NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, added: “It is an honor to share Drew’s story with Peacock users and raise awareness around the important issue of HIV research. We know the impact of this documentary will be far-reaching.”

The documentary shows the side effects that Drew experienced during the early days of the trial. The coronavirus pandemic interrupted the study, as the doctor spearheading the experimental vaccine started working on the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Drew, who was diagnosed with HIV in the late 1980’s when he was only 23 years old, was not paid for his participation in the trial that a major pharmaceutical company did not fund. 

“There are people who are still getting infected and sick and dying,” he told Variety in a June interview. “I would love to see a generation that doesn’t have to think or worry about this anymore.”
“Right to Try” won the Audience Award for Documentary Short last summer at Outfest, an LGBTQ+ film festival in Los Angeles.

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AIDS and HIV

Los Angeles observes World AIDS Day with star-studded concert

Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles and Juan Pablo di Pace will also be performing at the ceremony

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LOS ANGELES — As World AIDS Day is recognized around the globe, Los Angeles will mark the day with a free concert with a star-studded line-up at The Forum hosted by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AFA) and a ceremony at The Wall Las Memorias (TWLA) AIDS Monument in Lincoln Park Wednesday.

In a press release, the AFA said Grammy award winners Jennifer Hudson and Christina Aguilera are set to perform in front of a sold-out crowd. Emmy-nominated comedian Randy Rainbow will host the event, which will take place from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

In addition to the entertainment, the AFA will honor Vermont’s U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders with a Lifetime Achievement Award and a special video presentation. The award will be accepted by his wife Jane Sanders.

“This year marks two significant milestones in the decades-long fight against HIV and AIDS: first, for the first recognition by the CDC of the virus that led to what is now known as AIDS (40 years ago, in June 1981), and second, the launch of AHF (35 years ago),” the release reads. 

TWLA’s ceremony will reveal an expanded footprint of the surrounding landscape of the country’s only publicly funded AIDS monument. The monument, created in 2004, will also add over 1,000 names of loved ones lost to AIDS to the 360-plus names already etched into it and unveil new artwork. 

TWLM Founder Richard Zaldivar, Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo and County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis are all expected to attend the event, which will start at 6:15 p.m. at 3600 N. Mission Road. According to NBC 4 Los Angeles, organizers also hope Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will be in attendance. 

Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles and Juan Pablo di Pace will also be performing at the ceremony. 

World AIDS Day is observed every December 1 to raise awareness about AIDS and honor the people who have died of the disease. This year’s theme is “End inequities. End AIDS and End Pandemics.”

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