San Francisco AIDS Foundation Launches Initiatives to Radically Reduce HIV

Feb. 3, 2009?The San Francisco AIDS Foundation announces two pilot projects that target acute HIV infection, a medical condition responsible for as many as half of all new HIV cases in the city.

People are at exceptionally high risk of transmitting HIV to sexual and needle-sharing partners in the weeks following infection when the virus replicates rapidly. The acute phase subsides after the first two months when the immune system responds to the infection and reduces the viral load.

Over the next two years, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation will invest $400,000 in two initiatives aimed at early detection and intervention in the acute stage of HIV infection.

One of the projects will expand HIV testing and counseling at Magnet, the Foundation’s community health center for gay men in the Castro. Magnet is pioneering the first comprehensive program in the country to take an HIV risk-based approach to viral RNA (Ribonucleic acid) testing. The goal is to encourage clients who report recent high-risk behavior and their partners to get tested and, if found to be HIV positive, referred for counseling and medical assessment.

Another pilot project will train peer counselors to raise awareness about acute HIV infection among San Francisco’s female transgender population.

Mark Cloutier, CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said adding these initiatives to its arsenal of prevention tools will help the Foundation achieve its recently adopted goals of reducing new HIV infections in the city by 50 percent and ensuring all residents between 13 and 64 know their HIV status by 2015.

“Our prevention efforts have been very successful at preventing HIV infection rates from rising in San Francisco in recent years,” said Cloutier. “We now face an intractable endemic and need new approaches to radically reduce the number of new HIV cases.”

In 2008, Magnet performed 370 RNA tests. Of those, eight clients were identified as acutely infected even though they tested negative to the less sensitive HIV antibody test – a rate much higher than expected. Under the newly funded initiative, Magnet will increase its capacity to provide RNA tests to 25 percent more clients.

Magnet provides customers with handheld devices to record their demographic and risk-behavior information. The data collected alerts counselors to which clients are at risk for acute or recent HIV infection. Once a client undergoes RNA testing and is found to have acute HIV infection, he is encouraged to notify his sexual partners and refer them to Magnet for priority testing.

Under the pilot program, HIV testing will also be offered quarterly at the Foundation’s Stonewall Project, a counseling program for users of speed and crystal methamphetamine, and monthly at the needle exchange site on Sixth and Mission streets and at the client services department on Sixth and Market streets.

People identified at high risk for acute HIV infection include gay men who engage in anal sex without condoms, men with recently diagnosed rectal cases of sexually transmitted diseases and drug users who have shared needles.

“In an era of limited resources, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation is making a significant investment in innovative programs that can become national models,” said Cloutier.

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation provides leadership to prevent new HIV infections. Linking community experience with science, the Foundation develops ground-breaking prevention programs and bold policy initiatives to promote health and create sustainable progress against HIV. Established in 1982, the Foundation refuses to accept that HIV transmission is inevitable.

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