What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a retrovirus, which invades certain white blood cells in the body and drains them of their energy in order to survive and reproduce. This process leads to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), when the body’s immune system breaks down and becomes invaded by other “opportunistic infections“, the most common of which are meningitis, phneumonia and tuberculosis. Because of the body’s collapsing immune system, these infections become life-threatening.
How do I get HIV?
HIV is not a virus that is passed on easily. You CANNOT, for instance, get HIV from any of following:
- Breathing the same air as an infected person, coughing or sneezing
- Sharing kitchen utensils, toilet seats, public swimming pools
- Holding hands, hugging, kissing (even “french kissing“ is extremely unlikely to cause infection)
- Teardrops, sweat or saliva
However, HIV is one of the world’s biggest killers, and especially prevelant in African countries. You CAN get HIV from:
- Unprotected oral, vaginal or anal intercourse with an infected person
- Sharing needles or syringes with an infected person (for intravenous drug use, for instance)
- Having a mother who is infected. HIV can be passed on during pregnancy, birth or breast-feeding
What symptoms could I have?
Infection can sometimes be followed by mild flu-like symptoms or persistent swollen glands, but many people do not show any symptoms at all.
When should I get tested?
Generally, it is advised that you should get tested if you have ever had unprotected sex. But you are particularly at risk if you have had unprotected sex with an infected person or a person from a high-risk area, or have shared needles. Research also shows that women are four times more likely to become infected through sexual intercourse than men.
It is important to get tested sooner rather than later, as treatment and containment of the virus is much more effective if diagnosed early. Most physicians, local health department facilities and hospitals offer testing.
What treatment is available?
To this day, there is no cure for HIV or AIDS, and doctors say it will be at least another decade until a safe and effective vaccine is made available.
But, drugs used to contain the virus are becoming ever more effective and the life expectancy of infected people is on the rise. Some drugs treat the opportunistic infections already in the body, and some aim to prevent HIV from invading and destroying the body’s immune system.
How can I protect myself from HIV/AIDS?
- Use a condom with an infected person, a stranger or someone who hasn’t recently been tested for HIV and other infections
- Always use latex condoms and water-based lubricant for maximum protection (lambskin condoms and oil-based lubricants provide insufficient protection)
- Do not use or share needles or syringes that have already been used for drug injection or have come into contact with blood
Image attribution: Wikimedia File:Condom rolled.jpgTags: AIDS drugs HIV sex