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‘HIV will never be curable,’ doctor tells forum

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“Get tested, listen to the experts, and lead the responsible life,” declared Michael Pistole, the sexagenarian sexologist and sometime wisecracking medical doctor speaking at a meeting on surviving the AIDS and hepatitis C viruses.

“Hepatitis C can be cured, but HIV will never be curable, since it gets into your DNA,” Pistole said.

Speaking before a group of about 100 doctors, nurses, patients and other community members gathered at the Hotel Palomar for dinner and a “Survival Forum,” Pistole summed up his message of safer sex this way: “Realize it’s not just you, it’s the rest of the world.”

Pistole’s message was punctuated by quips and risqué double-entrendres, to put people at ease and lighten the serious message about how exposure to HIV is still a real fear, while peppering the audience with sobering facts and figures underscoring that reality.

“Yes, it’s a controllable situation — with antiretroviral drugs — and you can live a normal lifespan, long enough in fact to die from something else, but we have to accept the fact that [HIV is] just like herpes, that will also never be cured, and you can’t take a vaccine for the common cold either.”

As for a vaccine to prevent exposure, he said, “I’d like to think we could get a vaccine for HIV but with the complexity of the virus, I’m not sure.” Hepatitis B, for example, has a vaccine, he pointed out, but hepatitis C does not.

As his slideshow continued, the audience could literally read the writing on the wall — currently 1.1 million adults and adolescents exposed to the virus in this country, with pockets of greater exposure according to race, ethnicity and gender.

For example, per 100,000 people in the U.S. in 2006, the most recent year for such data, there were an estimated 395 white males and 63 females exposed to the virus, compared to 2,388 African-American males and 1,122 females, and 883 Hispanic males and 263 females. Exposure rates per 100,000 people were estimated for 2006 at 220 among Asian males and 46 females and 340 American Indian and Alaska Native males and 127 females.

Pistole, 64, is an internal medicine specialist in private practice in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area where he has been caring for HIV and hepatitis C patients since 1982. Exposure to the viruses continues, said Pistole, with risky sexual behavior rampant now in cities like D.C. where the incidence of virus carriers is skyrocketing, especially among African Americans.

According to Pistole, of total new infections recorded in 2006, 46 percent were African American, 36 percent were white, and 18 percent Hispanic, with approximately the same such proportions for men, but strikingly for women it was 61 percent African American versus 23 percent white. The highest risk factors remain IV drug use and male-to-male sexual contact, which had been decreasing as a cause of exposure but is now edging up again, said Pistole.

Among his other observations is what he called the antiviral “drug of the month” phenomenon, spurring some patients to say, “I want to try it,” something Pistole said should be discouraged by doctors.

Following his address, Pistole took questions and comments from the audience, including a memorable exchange with Michael Sainte-Andress, a 60-year-old resident of Logan Circle diagnosed with HIV in 1986.

“It’s very important to develop empowerment,” Sainte-Andress said. “You are the captain of your ship and everyone else on board is a deck hand.”

Pistole replied that “the doctor is not the captain of your ship, but he can be a little bit more than a deckhand. He can be on board as your engineer.”

Sainte-Andress is a local actor who recently played the role of Leonato in the Folger Theatre production of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

The event was sponsored by Peter Metaxotos, sole proprietor of Alpha Drugs, the Dupont Circle pharmacy at 1638 R Street, N.W., Suite 260. The next such forum, Survival Forum VIII, will be held in January with a transgender summit planned for March.

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National

DOJ urged to investigate threats against providers of transition-related care

Boston-area hospital forced to evacuate in August

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A coalition of major health organizations are calling on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigation threats against providers of gender transition-related medical care for youth, asserting ongoing hostility, including bomb threats and threats of personal violence.

The letter, dated Oct. 3, says medical providers are facing threats for providing “evidence-based health care” to youth, which has meant care for gender transitions, such as hormones, puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgery. The targets of these threats, the letter says, are children’s hospitals, academic health systems and physicians across the country.

“These coordinated attacks threaten federally protected rights to health care for patients and their families,” the letter says. “The attacks are rooted in an intentional campaign of disinformation, where a few high-profile users on social media share false and misleading information targeting individual physicians and hospitals, resulting in a rapid escalation of threats, harassment and disruption of care across multiple jurisdictions.”

The letter has an organizational signature from American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and Children’s Hospital Association, listing no names as representatives. According to the letter, the group represent 270,000 physicians and medical students and CHA represents more than 220 children’s hospitals across the country.

Major health organizations call on the U.S. Justice Department to take action weeks after Boston Children’s Hospital was forced to evacuate over a bomb threat. Authorities later arrested a woman charged with making the after she reportedly phoned in the threat and called the staff “sickos.”

The threats, the letter says, have had significant impact on providers and services to patients, including a new mother being prevented from being with her preterm infant because of a bomb threat; the need for increased security at children’s hospitals; and staffers facing “increased threats via social media – including to their personal accounts.”

A statement from organizations accompanying the letter urges social media companies — including Twitter, TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram — to “do more to prevent coordinated campaigns of disinformation.”

Jack Resneck, president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement accompanying the letter “individuals in all workplaces have the right to a safe environment, out of harm’s way and free of intimidation or reprisal.”

“As physicians, we condemn groups that promote hate-motivated intolerance and toxic misinformation that can lead to grave real-world violence and extremism and jeopardize patients’ health outcomes,” Resneck said.

The Washington Blade has placed a call in with the Justice Department seeking comment on the letter and the American Medical Association seeking comment on why the letter has organizational signatures as opposed to signatures from any of their representatives.

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Virginia

Youngkin makes additional appointments to Va. LGBTQ+ Advisory Board

Governor plans to revise transgender, nonbinary student guidelines

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday announced the appointment of three people to the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board.

Youngkin named Kerry Flynn, Jason Geske and Collin J. Hite to the board.

Casey Flores, the president of Log Cabin Republicans of Richmond, in July resigned from the board before his tenure was to begin. The resignation came amid growing criticism over a series of anti-LGBTQ and misogynist comments he made against Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), among others.

Youngkin last month announced he plans to revise the Virginia Department of Education’s guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students. Thousands of high school students across Virginia on Sept. 27 walked out of class in protest of the planned revision.

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Survey shows 72% of Utah residents back same-sex marriage

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah said he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality

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The results of a poll run by the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Desert News found 72% of Utah’s residents agree that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by law as valid, with the same rights as cis-gender marriages.

“For a state that less than 20 years ago passed laws and a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, there has been a seismic shift in opinion,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey also found that 23% of those surveyed disagreed, while 5% expressed that they don’t know.

The poll shows Utahns are aligned with the nation as a whole on the issue. A Gallup poll in May found 71% of Americans say they support legal same-sex marriage, a new high.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, told the Desert News that he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality.

“Utah is a pro-family state, and we recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes. When we see loving, committed couples joining in matrimony, our natural impulse is to support and encourage that love. This gives me great hope for the future,” he said.

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