WORLD AIDS DAY

Victor A. Nwanguma, MD

SMGOR Infectious Disease Specialist

World AIDS Day was established in 1988 and is observed each year on the 1st of December. It is an opportunity to increase awareness and knowledge about human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the annual number of new HIV diagnoses has remained stable in recent years in the United States. However, annual new diagnoses have increased among some groups. In 2017, a total of 38,739 people received an HIV diagnosis in the U.S. The annual number of new HIV diagnoses remained stable between 2012 and 2016.

HOW DO YOU GET HIV?

As stated by the CDC, only certain body fluids—blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk—from a person who has HIV can transmit HIV. For transmission to occur, these fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane (found inside the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth) or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream.

HIV is NOT transmitted by

  • Hugging, shaking hands, sharing toilets, sharing dishes, or closed-mouth or “social” kissing with someone who is HIV-positive.
  • By mosquitoes, ticks or other blood-sucking insects.

Nor is it transmitted

  • Through saliva, tears, or sweat that is not mixed with the blood of an HIV-positive person.
  • Through the air.

HOW DOES HIV PRESENT ITSELF?

  • Stage 1: Acute HIV infection

Two to four weeks after infection with HIV, people may experience a flu-like illness (fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, or swollen lymph nodes). These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.  This is the body’s natural response to infection.

  • Stage 2: Clinical latency (HIV inactivity)

Sometimes called asymptomatic or chronic HIV infection. During this phase, HIV is still active, but people may not have any symptoms. For people who aren’t taking medicine to treat HIV, this period can last several years, and they can transmit HIV to others; eventually, they progress to the next stage, AIDS.

People taking medicine to treat HIV and stay virally suppressed (undetectable viral load) have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV and maybe in this stage for several decades.

  • Stage 3: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)

AIDS is the most severe phase of HIV infection. People with AIDS have badly damaged immune systems that they get an increasing number of severe illnesses, called opportunistic illnesses. According to the CDC, without treatment, people with AIDS typically survive for about three years.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE HIV? 

The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. Knowing your status is important because it helps you make healthy decisions to prevent getting or transmitting HIV.

To find places near you that offer confidential HIV testing, Text your ZIP code to KNOW IT (566948).

PREVENTION AND TREATMENT

Ways to prevent HIV;

  • Abstinence (not having sex)
  • Limiting your number of sexual partners
  • Never sharing needles
  • Using condoms, the right way every time you have intercourse
  • By using HIV prevention medicines, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)

Today, as claimed by the CDC, there is no effective cure, but with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. The medicines used to treat HIV are called antiretroviral therapy or ART.  If people with HIV take ART as prescribed, their viral load (amount of HIV in their blood) can become undetectable. If it stays undetectable, they can live long, healthy lives and have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV.

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