5 Things You Should Know About HIV/AIDS

No one really knows when, where or how HIV/AIDS originated. No particular group or people, whether classed by race sexuality or belief can be blamed for AIDS. It is caused by a virus transmitted in number of ways.

What is HIV/AIDS?

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), is started by a virus, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). If the virus gets into the bloody stream of a person it attacks the white blood cells (T4 cells).

The virus enters the cells and makes them produce more viruses. This process kills the cells and eventually there are no longer enough T4 cells to protect the body from infection, i.e. the virus stops the immune system from working properly.

The body attempts to kill the virus by creating antibodies. However antibodies cannot kill a virus that has entered the T4 cells. Testing for AIDS is therefore actually testing for antibodies to HIV. People do not die from the HIV virus but from opportunistic infections that uninfected people fight off easily.

Many people who test HIV antibody positive will be asymptomatic – they will have no signs of illness at all and will feel well and healthy. Some people however may go on to develop further symptoms quickly. No one knows what causes some people to progress to further symptoms or to AIDS.

Some factors may be, past medical history, particularly previous STDs, the number of times they were exposed to the virus and factors which have already depleted the immune system (e.g. poor nutrition, stress or use of drugs).

Who is at risk to get HIV/AIDS?

It is not who you are but what you do that puts you at risk. Whether you are heterosexuality or homosexual, if you have had a number of unprotected sexual encounters you would be more likely to have contracted the virus than someone who has had few or is in an exclusive relationship.

If you are an IV drug user and have shared needles then you are also more at risk than an IV drug user who has not. It also follows that an unprotected sexual encounter with an IV drug user would increase the risk.

How you get HIV/AIDS

HIV is not easy to transmit – body fluids in which the virus is present, blood, seminal fluid and vaginal and cervical fluids, must go directly into the blood stream. The virus is not found in urine, feces and vomit but small amounts of blood containing the virus may be present in these fluids.

The virus can only be transmitted through:

  • The use of an infected needle. Small amounts of blood remain in the needle or syringe after it has been used and this blood, which may be infected, can be injected directly into the bloodstream.
  • Through sex where infected blood, semen, saliva or vaginal and cervical fluids go directly into the bloodstream e.g. unprotected vaginal and anal intercourse.
    • The virus can pass through the membranes which line the vagina cervical canal, the uterus and the inside of the anus during intercourse if they are torn or damaged. Infections like thrush or herpes can cause inflammation which will increase the chance of the virus entering the bloodstream.
    • The chances of getting the virus from oral sex are minimal. However you may be at risk if there are inflammations, sores, ulcers or bleeding gums in the mouth which may allow the entry of semen or vaginal secretions or if there are sores, blisters or abrasions on the vulva or penis which may allow the entry of blood from mouth sores.
  • Through mother to baby during pregnancy and birth and possibly through breastfeeding.

How to make sure you don’t get HIV/AIDS

Here are four things to make sure you don’t get HIV/AIDS:

  • abstinence
  • having one faithful partner
  • practicing safe sex
  • not sharing needles to take drugs

If you inject any kind of drug use a new syringe, a new filter and fresh water each time. New needles and syringes can be brought from some chemists and are free from needle exchange programs.

What to do

If you feel you may have been exposed to the virus, anti-HIV medication called PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) may stop you becoming infected.

Waiting 3 months to get tested after a possible exposure to HIV, as this is the maximum time it takes HIV antibodies to develop. The test is like a routine blood test and you will have to wait 2 weeks for your results.

If you considering having an AIDS test it is advisable to use a false name as doctors are required by law to report all cases to the government. Although they are also required to keep this information confidential, in a society based on centralized information this cannot be guaranteed.

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