NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Local doctors say they're closer to ending the HIV epidemic in New Orleans and can see a future without the virus.
They tell us the disease is undetectable and untransmittable in the vast majority of the patients they're treating.
We spoke to a 22-year-old HIV patient who says he knew a diagnosis in 2017 wasn't a death sentence, but he had no idea just how effective his treatment would be. We're not using his name to protect his privacy.
"Between the time I was diagnosed and undetectable it took eight days. I was undetectable in a week."
A week is all it took for the young man to realize the new treatment could save his life. He's being treated at Crescent Care in New Orleans, a community health center.
Less than year ago, the clinic launched it's Crescent Care Start Initiative. Through that program, doctors are able to give an HIV test with results in just a minute. Those who test positive can get immediate access to life-saving medication and financial assistance.
"In my head I knew, oh yeah there are meds, but I wouldn't have known how to get that - especially with my situation. "I would have assumed there is no way I could have afforded that, so, definitely having someone at that moment was amazing because I wouldn't have known where to go," the patient said. "I was never worried about can I pay for the meds to keep me alive."
Dr. Nicholas Van Sickels is the Chief Medical Officer at Crescent Care. He says in the more than 100 patients they've treated so far, the majority now have undetectable levels of the virus in their blood.
"Over 90% of those people are what's called undetectable. You don't even see the virus in their blood, and the good thing is it stops the virus from hurting them, and then they can't transmit it, that's it, it's done. They can't transmit it to anybody as long as they stay undetectable," said Van Sickels.
Van Sickels says they can typically get patients to that point with just two pills and in just a month's time. But, the patients must stay on the two pill regimen for the rest of their lives.
"For HIV purposes, undetectable is untransmittable, and that is the message we are trying to spread, It helps reduce stigma, it helps protect our community and it's going to end the epidemic in New Orleans," said Van Sickels.
That's a remarkable breakthrough for this patient, who's looking forward to a long, healthy life.
"It's wild to think if this were 15,10 years ago it might not be the same story," he said.
Van Sickels says another way they're working to end the HIV epidemic is through a pill call PrEP. That's for patients who test HIV negative. Experts say when taken daily it's more than 90% effective at reducing the risk of contracting the virus.
For more information on how you can get help through Crescent Care, click here.