Since it was identified in 1984, AIDS has claimed the lives of more than 35 million people globally.1 It’s important to ensure that the facts of this sexually transmitted infection continue to be broadcast, in the hopes that the stigma and discrimination associated with its diagnosis may one day be eliminated through understanding.
World Aids Day, which takes places on December 1st of each year, provides the opportunity for people to learn about the condition and the virus that causes it. It also allows people to show their support for those with the disease, as well as remember those who have succumbed to it. The universal symbol of World Aids Day is a red ribbon.
What Are HIV and AIDS?
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is the cause of Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome, otherwise known as AIDS. HIV enters the bloodstream and attacks the body’s immune system, which is its first line of defense against disease.
More specifically, the virus attacks CD4+ cells, which are a type of white blood cells. Once a large number of these cells has been destroyed and the body can no longer fight disease, it enters the final stage of the infection, which is AIDS.
This stage sees the body being attacked by diseases requiring chronic disease management that wouldn’t normally affect a healthy person. The many complications from multiple infections result in the demise of AIDS patients.
Important Facts About AIDS
There are many facts and myths about AIDS. One myth is that AIDS is a disease started and spread via homosexual sex. Another is that the virus can be spread through the skin. Still another myth is that only a certain gender can get AIDS.
AIDS Is Not a Homosexual Disease
Probably the most important piece of information to understand is that AIDS does not only affect those who engage in homosexual sex. In fact, anyone can contract HIV if they engage in high-risk behavior like having unprotected sex with multiple partners, sharing needles for the purpose of drug or steroid use, or having unprotected sex with someone already infected with HIV.
In the biological sense, females are more vulnerable to contracting HIV. This is because female genitalia are easily exposed to seminal fluid. Women are also more vulnerable to contracting HIV due to gender inequality, which has seen women becoming engaged in unprotected sex and risky situations against their will.
HIV and AIDS Are Not Spread Through the Skin
Contrary to what you may have heard, HIV is only contracted when infected bodily fluids like blood, breast milk, semen, and vaginal fluid from one person enter the bloodstream of another person. HIV is not transmitted via saliva, sweat, or tears.
Entry of the virus can occur in several ways that may or may not require chronic care management in the future. Entry can occur via broken skin, and it can also occur via the lining of the sex organs, anus, penis, vagina, and mouth. A pregnant woman with HIV can pass the virus to her fetus.
It is not possible to contract HIV by breathing the same air as an infected person, nor can it be spread by hugging or touching an infected person. HIV is also not contracted by using water fountains, swimming pools, and public bathrooms, or by sharing a phone, utensil, or cup that an infected person has used.
Similarly, the virus cannot be spread by touching a surface that an HIV-infected person has touched. It also cannot be spread via bug bites.
HIV Infection May Not Present with Any Symptoms
A person may have HIV and not know it because they may not feel unwell. Others may mistake their symptoms for flu or mono, as HIV infection can cause fever, sore throat, head and muscle aches, joint pain, and similar symptoms.
The symptoms of HIV infection may take several weeks or a few days to manifest. They may also go away after some time and may not return for several years. However, once they do reappear, they will remain. Some common symptoms which reappear include fever, weight loss, extreme fatigue, night sweats, and swollen lymph nodes.
HIV antibodies can take anywhere from within three months to up to six months to appear in the blood following exposure. The only way to diagnose HIV is by taking advantage of LGBT and other resources to test the urine, saliva, or blood.
If a urine or saliva sample is found to contain the virus, a blood test is then taken to confirm this. There are currently two blood tests used by doctors to reveal the presence of HIV.
The ELISA test is responsible for detecting HIV antibodies. If this occurs, a second test, called the Western blot, is done to confirm infection. If the tests are negative, but a person thinks they’ve been exposed to the virus, they can get tested again. Typically, re-testing occurs at 6, 12 and 24 weeks.
HIV testing is offered at most public health clinics, doctors’ offices, and hospitals, as well as at Planned Parenthood clinics. HIV testing kits can also be purchased by mail order or in local drugstores. However, when doing this, people are advised to ensure the test kit is FDA-approved. A positive home test should be followed by a test at a doctor’s office.
HIV Diagnosis Does Not Mean AIDS
Another popular myth is that, once a person has been diagnosed with HIV, it automatically means they have AIDS. The truth is that it can take several years for a person to develop AIDS. Not only that, but the development of HIV treatments is resulting in long and active lives for many who have been diagnosed with the virus.
Highly Active AntiRetroviral Therapy (HAART) can reduce the amount of HIV in the bloodstream to an amount that’s undetectable by blood tests. HAART is recommended during heterosexual and LGBT counseling, and it is most effective when applied as soon as the infection is confirmed.
Preventing the Contraction and Spread of HIV
You can prevent yourself from contracting HIV. If you are already infected, there are many ways to prevent spreading the virus.
If you are at high risk of contracting HIV, you can take something called Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is administered in pill form and, when taken daily, will help to lower the chances of becoming infected. Patients who take PrEP can reduce their risk of contracting HIV from sexual intercourse by more than 90% and reduce overall risk of contracting HIV by 70%.
When combined with condoms and other methods of prevention, PrEP can reduce the risk of contracting and spreading of HIV even further.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Although PrEP is safe to take, it can cause side effects, the most common being nausea. However, these and other potential side effects are not life-threatening unless they are severe or do not disappear. Where either of these is the case, you should tell your healthcare provider.
Who Should Take PrEP?
PrEP is most suited for anyone who is at very high risk of contracting HIV via sexual activity or injection drug use. Federal guidelines recommend that PrEP is considered for HIV-negative individuals who are in an ongoing sexual relationship with someone who is HIV positive. Because this can define many relationships, speaking with a doctor is the best way to ensure that PrEP is right for you.
How Long Does PrEP Take to Work?
Seven days of daily use will allow PrEP to reach its maximum potency against HIV when having receptive anal sex. Where protection from HIV infection is needed for injection drug use or receptive vaginal sex, 20 days of daily use is required for maximum protection.
Because HIV may not present with any symptoms, people can spread the virus without knowing they have. Therefore, it’s important to protect both yourself and others from contracting the disease. Fortunately, there are many ways to do so.
Using a condom every time you engage in intercourse or oral sex is recommended, at least until it’s been confirmed that both you and your partner do not have HIV or another STI. You may also consider avoiding sex with multiple partners, even if it is protected sex, until test results have been received.
If you are in a new relationship and have not yet had sex for the first time, it’s important to speak with your partner about their level of risk for HIV. Use a condom until you can get tested together, and then retest at the 6-, 12- and 24-week marks to confirm there is no infection before having unprotected sex.
Ensure that you are not intoxicated by alcohol or drugs before engaging in sexual activity, as these can impair your judgment and lessen the perceived importance of using condoms.
Because blood can be deposited onto razors and toothbrushes, shared use of these items is not recommended if you suspect HIV infection. Sharing syringes or needles is never a good idea.
Get More Information About HIV Prevention
HIV and AIDS are both serious conditions. However, with proper prevention and treatment, they can be managed.
Baylor, Scott & White MedProvider specializes in providing adult patients with the needed tools to prevent or manage acute and chronic conditions. Through primary care, our patients are able to realize and maintain the highest quality of life. Located in Dallas, TX, Baylor, Scott & White MedProvider offers preventative health and acute and chronic disease management to new and returning adult patients.
We also provide medical diagnostic imaging, endocrinology, and women’s health services. To learn more about your options for preventing or managing HIV and other chronic conditions, contact 469-701-9075.