Cone Health patients participate in worldwide HIV study

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Results from a National Institute of Health-funded study prove that patients with Human Immunodeficiency Virus should start immediate treatment.

Strategic Timing of AntiRetroviral Treatment or “START” began trial worldwide with more than 4,000 patients living with HIV; 23 of those patients were patients at Cone Health Medical Center.

Dr. Kees Van Dam, director of research for infectious diseases at Cone Health Medical Center, said before the May results, immediate treatment was a recommendation. Now the evidence proves it.

“More people had infections who waited to start on therapy. In Africa in particular, tuberculosis was a problem. More people got cancers that weren’t even particularly related to HIV, more people died,” Dr. Van Dam said. “This kind of represents a final chapter in the evolution of HIV treatment from the 1980s until now.”

Dr. Van Dam said the reason many patients decided not to begin immediate treatment is because of toxicity of early HIV medication and the harsh side effects.

Kevin Varner has been living with HIV since 2007.

Varner works as the director of prevention services at Triad Health Project in Greensboro. Varner said he was asked to be a part of the study but admission had already closed. Yet, after consulting with his doctor he chose to begin immediate treatment and the results have been effective.

“My viral load dropped from about 75,000 to 75 in less than three weeks. When the nurse called me and gave me that information, I dropped the phone and first I was like, ’75-what?’ She said, ‘No that’s it, 75.’ I dropped the phone and I just started sobbing; I can’t believe this.”

The virus is currently undetectable in Varner’s system with the medication he receives.
“You have to say I’m going to fight this because my life is more important that this teeny tiny virus and the way I’m going to fight it is I’m going to ask for help,” Varner said.

Varner uses his story as a help to others who want information, a listening ear, testing and resources at the Triad Health Project.

For more information on access to free resources visit their website.

Since January six people have tested positive for HIV in Guilford County alone.