Utah man living with HIV ‘cautiously optimistic’ about news of potential cure

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A Utah man living with HIV said Wednesday he is “cautiously optimistic” about the news of a second person reportedly being cured of the virus. 

Russell Smith was 25 when he got the news that he was HIV positive. 

“At points, my life was over,” Smith, now 31, recalled about the time he got the diagnosis. “I’m gonna have to be on medication for the rest of my life,” he said. Smith takes Genvoya, a common anti-retroviral drug to manage the virus. He said gastrointestinal issues are common side effects of the drug, but overall he lives a normal life. 

Tuesday, doctors announced a cancer treatment may have inadvertently cured a London patient’s HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS. Doctors cautioned that it is too early to tell if this means a cure for HIV could be around the corner. 

“People are very excited. We were very excited. Of course, I’m managing the expectations of the patients,” said Dr. Ravindra Gupta, an HIV biologist. Still, the patient has been in remission for 18 months, with no detectable traces of the virus. The supposed cure comes after an HIV resistant patient donated bone marrow to the subject. 

Advocates in the search for an HIV cure, including the Utah AIDS Foundation, are rejoicing at the news. In Utah, there are approximately 3 to 4,000 people living with HIV, and about a quarter of those don’t know they have the virus, according to Stan Penfold, Executive Director of the Utah AIDS Foundation. 

Smith says while having HIV is no longer a death sentence here in the U.S., it’s still highly stigmatized and puts quite a beating on one’s body and immune system.  

“It’s generally easily managed with medication…but when I go in for a cough, I’m more likely to get an X-ray.”

Smith said he’s encouraged by the news of a potential cure and hopes the renewed conversation about HIV might reduce the stigma. 

“I’m a normal human being. I have a chronic disease. I am going to live a full happy productive life for the most part,” said Smith. 

For more information on the London patient’s cure, click here

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