5 Things you wish you knew about AIDS

As young people are so vulnerable to HIV infection, it is essential to be well informed about HIV risks and prevention strategies. In the UK, the number of young men being diagnosed with HIV has doubled in the space of a decade.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

–         Acquired means you can get infected with it

–         Immune Deficiency means a weakness in the body’s system that fights diseases and

–         Syndrome means a group of health problems that make up a disease.

AIDS is caused by a virus called the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

Remember, HIV is a virus while AIDS is a medical condition. The HIV infection can cause AIDS to develop. However, it is possible to be infected with HIV without developing AIDS. Without treatment, the HIV infection can progress and, eventually, it will develop into AIDS in the vast majority of cases. Once someone has received an AIDS diagnosis, it will always carry over with them in their medical history.

HIV is a retrovirus that infects the vital organs and cells of the human immune system. The virus progresses in the absence of antiretroviral therapy (ART) – a drug therapy that slows or prevents the growth of new HIV viruses. The rate of virus progression varies widely between individuals and depends on many factors like the age of the patient, the body’s ability to defend against HIV, access to healthcare, the existence of other infections, the infected person’s genetic inheritance, etc.

Few “facts” about AIDS that you need to know:

Fact 1: A person may be HIV positive but might not necessarily have AIDS

A person is termed to be HIV positive when they are found to be infected by this virus. As the disease progresses it eventually eats away at the immune system of the patient, causing a number of opportunistic infections to take hold along the way.  AIDS is a host of conditions that are associated with the loss of one’s immune system. HIV and AIDS are different. All persons living with AIDS are infected with HIV, but not all persons with HIV infection have AIDS.

Fact 2: It is not spread only by sexual contact

HIV is present in bodily fluids like blood, semen, vaginal fluid, breast milk and menstrual fluid. The virus may be transmitted from one person to another if the bodily fluid of the infected person enters the body of the uninfected person during one of the following activities:

  • Having an unprotected sex with someone who has HIV positive.
  • Sharing needles or syringes, rinse water, or other equipment used to prepare drugs for injection with someone who has HIV. HIV can live in a used needle for up to 42 days depending on temperature and other factors.
  • From mother to child during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. Although the risk can be high if a mother is living with HIV and not taking medicine, the recommendations to test all pregnant women for HIV and start HIV treatment immediately have lowered the number of babies who are born with HIV.
  • Being “stuck” with an HIV-contaminated needle or other sharp objects. This is a risk mainly for healthcare workers.

Fact 3: It is not spread by normal day-to-day activities

Since HIV is not airborne or waterborne, it cannot be transmitted through:

  • Touching, sneezing, or coughing
  •   Casual contact at work, school, or home (such as hugging or shaking hands)
  •   Sharing food, drink, or utensils
  •  Sharing bath water or swimming pools
  •  Sharing toilet seats or using public toilets
  •  Bites from mosquitoes, bed bugs, or other insects
  • Tears or sweat
  •  Saliva or kissing (HIV is not in saliva, but cut or bleeding gums may increase risk of infection through kissing)
  •  Urine and faeces do not transmit HIV if they do not contain blood.

Fact 4: HIV is not the end of your life, it is a manageable condition

HIV should not be thought of as a death knell. It is a manageable condition that needs lifestyle changes and continuous medication. If you have HIV, ask your doctor about how you can be safe from contracting opportunistic infections.

Fact 5: An HIV positive person can have non-HIV positive children

With the advances in medicine, it is possible for an HIV positive parent to have a non-HIV, uninfected child.  The mother must take the appropriate medication and follow the advice given during her pregnancy. Medication exists to help to prevent the crossing over of the virus from the mother to the baby. Therefore, with the proper care, a HIV positive person can have a perfectly healthy baby.

AIDS is one of the most significant health concerns the world is facing today. When it comes to HIV/AIDS, treatment is always better than the cure. Always practise safe sex by using condoms. Avoid sharing needles and razors with another person. A person living with HIV should use HIV treatment to prevent onward transmission.

Get a blood test done if you think that you may have been infected by HIV. It’s better to be safe than sorry. You can get a confidential blood test done by our doctors at Pall Mall Medical, with results back either instantly (via finger prick testing) or within hours (via blood testing).

If you find out that you are HIV positive, our Private GPs will be able to speak with you to allay any fear and can advise you on the correct treatment immediately.

For more information, please visit: https://www.pallmallmedical.co.uk/doctors/hiv-tests

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