Although many people have heard the words HIV and AIDS, the sad thing is that these same people think it will never happen to them.
What is HIV?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that primarily infects humans. HIV is normally spread through the exchange of blood and bodily fluids. HIV infection is mainly spread through direct sexual intercourse, injecting drugs, and also through the transmission of breast milk from an infected mother to a newborn or from an HIV-infected partner to another partner by semen or vaginal fluids. The disease is incurable and can affect people of any age and gender.
About half of people living with HIV do not know they are infected. HIV/AIDS is currently the most common cause of AIDS-related deaths in the world. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there are an estimated 6.3 million people living with HIV only in the US.
How people get HIV
Some common misconceptions about this sexually transmitted disease are:
- Only homosexuals and drug users get it
- You can get HIV just from touching someone who has it
- You can get AIDS from touching an infected persons sweat or tears
- Mosquitoes, fleas, and other blood sucking parasites can pass it on
- It can be airborne and passed through spitting or coughing
- You can get it from an infected person if you use their towel, eating utensils, or toilet seats
- You can get it from an infected person via kissing
- There are herbal remedies that can stop the transmission
- You can get HIV/AIDS from public swimming pools
NONE of the above statements are true.
HIV can only be passed to someone else if infected bodily fluids, such as blood, breast milk, semen or vaginal sections, enter the blood stream of an uninfected person.
You can pass on the HIV virus via:
- Mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding
- Sharing needles
- Unprotected sex
- Infected blood donations or organ transplants
Who can get HIV?
Like many illnesses, and unlike many people, HIV is non-discriminatory. It doesn’t care if you are a mother, a grandfather, straight, gay, bi-sexual, trans-sexual, rich or poor, black or white. While it is true that some groups have a higher risk, it isn’t that there is something wrong with them, but rather that they tend to engage in riskier sexual behavior.
Many people do not know they are infected. Because of this, HIV-infected people may have a hard time accepting that they have the virus. Many also blame their own behavior, which may involve unprotected sex or excessive drinking. There are many legal and societal issues around HIV stigma and they must be addressed.
HIV or AIDS?
Remember that HIV and AIDS are not the same thing. HIV is the disease. AIDS is a set of symptoms caused by HIV. There isn’t a test for AIDS and you can’t technically “catch” AIDS, it’s HIV that is the virus responsible.
There are different kinds of HIV. Type 1 means the HIV is the cause of the disease. This type of HIV has no cure, so it is kept under control by treatment. If treatment fails, HIV will cause symptoms. These symptoms are known as the AIDS syndrome. Some symptoms may include HIV’s immune system causing problems. Other symptoms are memory loss, shaking and collapsing, depression and anxiety, muscle and bone pain, and other general signs of sickness.
Can you tell if someone has HIV from looking at them?
No, you cannot tell who is infected simply by looking at them. Many people show no signs and others are taking treatments, which keep their HIV in check.
The 3 Stages of HIV/AIDS
- Stage 1: after a person first becomes infected, they might feel flu like symptoms, but not everyone does
- Stage 2: This stage can last as long as 10 years or more. A person will have no symptoms and, unless they are tested, they won’t even know they are infected and can pass it on to others.
- Stage 3: The immune system is now so badly damaged that a person cannot fight off diseases or even a simple cold.
How can I avoid HIV/AIDS without being celibate?
There are several ways to reduce your risk of contracting or spreading HIV.
Practice safe sex — that is, reduce the number of sexual partners, use a condom if you’re not in a mutually monogamous relationship, and use male or female condoms consistently. Reduce your exposure to other STDs by using a condom every time you have sex and sticking with no more than one partner per year.
Here are main tips to reduce risks of getting HIV/AIDS:
- Always practice safe sex
- If you think you might have been infected, get tested every 6 months
- Drug users and other high-risk groups should talk to their doctor about the medication Truvada, which helps to repel the HIV virus
- If you use drugs, always use a clean needle
- Men should consider being circumcised
- If you become pregnant, see a doctor right away
HIV drug regimens — the medications taken to help the body cope with HIV — are reliable and effective. If you think you may be at risk for HIV, talk with your health care provider. Use the link below to read more about treatment options.