In what amounts to a victory for HIV advocates in the South (and a testament to the preventive power of antiretroviral meds), fewer Louisianans were diagnosed with HIV in 2018 than in any of the past 10 years.

Specifically, 989 new cases of HIV were identified in 2018, according to a press release from the Louisiana State Department of Health in Baton Rouge. That amounts to a 12% decrease from the 1,124 identified in 2016 and makes 2018 the first year since 2005 in which the number of new cases was under 1,000.

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Alexander Billioux, MD, PhD, the assistant secretary of the LDH’s Office of Public Health, attributed the decrease to the fact that more people are getting tested for HIV and getting linked to care and treatment when they test positive, enabling them to achieve viral suppression. (When people with HIV maintain an undetectable viral load, they cannot transmit HIV through sex, a fact referred to as U=U, or undetectable equals untransmittable.)

And Billioux, for one, thinks it likely that it has been even more than 10 years since the number of new cases in a year was this low.

“It is quite possible that the number of new HIV cases reported in Louisiana in 2005 and 2006 were artificially low due to reporting challenges resulting from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” he explained in the press release.  “We know these storms had a big impact on the state’s health services at that time.”

The press release did not mention whether Truvada as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) played a role in lowering new HIV cases. When taken daily as directed, the tablet reduces the risk of contracting HIV by 99% or more among men who have sex with men (MSM) and 90% or more among women. (The risk reduction for women may very well be greater than 90% percent, but there isn’t sufficient research available to refine the estimate.) However, experts claim that people at greatest risk for HIV, notably transgender women and Black men who have sex with men, face challenges in accessing Truvada.

But the bottom line regarding Louisiana’s HIV stats, Billioux said, is that “this is great news and demonstrates how the state’s HIV strategy and programs that are led out of the Office of Public Health are achieving results.”