Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a global public health issue and millions of people have become its victims. There are 3 different stages of HIV with symptoms that may vary for each infected individual:
- Acute HIV:This is the initial stage of HIV where the infection develops 2-4 weeks after someone contracts HIV. It includes flu like symptoms such as chills, fever, sore throat and muscle pain.
- Chronic HIV: Also known as the asymptomatic stage, the virus may still be active by making copies of the infected cells. This stage may last for several years. It includes symptoms like weight loss, coughing or breathing difficulties, high fever, fatigue and diarrhoea.
- AIDS: The most advanced stage of HIV infection is Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).When the white blood cells are destroyed, the body is unable to protect itself from infections as small as a cold and as life-threatening as cancer. The symptoms include white spots in the mouth, genital sores, memory problems, pneumonia and rashes that are red, brown, purple or pink in colour.
How is HIV transmitted?
- Having unprotected sexual intercourse with someone who is HIV positive.
- Transfusion of contaminated blood.
- Sharing syringes and needles such as during a blood test, skin piercing, tattoo, razor blades with someone who is HIV positive.
- Transmission from a mother to the infant during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
How is HIVNot transmitted?
- Touching, kissing and hugging someone who is living with HIV.
- Coming in contact with the sweat, tears, cough, sneezes, spit, urine and faeces of someone who has HIV.
- Sharing food and drinks with an HIV positive person.
- Sharing utensils, living quarters, toilets, swimming pool with someone infected with HIV.
- Mosquitoes, insects and bed bugs do not transmit the disease.
Who all are at greater risk for HIV infection?
- Men who have sex with men.
- Injection drug users.
- Sex workers and trans-genders.
HIV can be diagnosed by testing blood or saliva for antibodies to the virus. However it takes up to 12 weeks for the body to develop these antibodies.
Can HIV be treated?
Treatment of HIV is possible and is important since it helps in reducing the amount of HIV in the blood. The doctor may provide the patient with a combination of drugs known as Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). This helps in the following:
- Helps people with HIV live longer and healthier lives.
- Enables an HIV positive person to have sexual intercourse with an HIV negative partner.
- Reduces the risk of HIV positive woman of passing the infection to her child during pregnancy or childbirth.
How to prevent HIV?
- Engage in safer sexual activities like oral sex, kissing and dry humping. Use condoms during vaginal and anal sex as a protection against HIV.
- Don’t inject drugs and if you do, make sure to use only sterile equipment. Don’t use others’ or let others use your injections or razors.
- Limit the number of sexual partners because one might unknowingly end up having sexual intercourse with someone having a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
HIV infection destroys the very cells that fight off infections in the body. With a weakened immune system, the body starts giving up on the infected person and stops functioning efficiently which leads to more vulnerabilities and infections.
Better awareness on HIV and AIDS, sex education in schools and steps to ensure that topics like sex and STD are no longer tabooed are integral for HIV prevention and saving people from becoming a victim of this deadly disease.