What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV is a virus. Viruses are tiny germs that infect cells of living organisms, for example humans. The virus then replicates (makes copies of itself) inside the cells and spreads throughout the body. A virus can damage the cells it replicates in, which is what causes the infected person to become unwell.
HIV means: Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
- Human – Only affects Humans
- Immunodeficiency – Immune System (fights infections) will work deficiently (not properly)
- Virus – tiny germ that spreads.
Once a person is infected with HIV, the virus will live in their body, this means the person is HIV positive. HIV attacks a person’s immune system. The immune system usually protects the body from infection, attacking and killing viruses and bacteria. The reason HIV is so dangerous is because it attacks the immune system and the immune system is unable to protect itself. HIV replicates rapidly which means that once it is in the body the immune system is unable to get rid of it.
The person’s immune system has now been irreparably damaged by HIV. This means that the immune system is unable to fight off other infections and diseases. A person infected with HIV will become unwell more frequently and will become weak. Once a person with HIV starts to become frequently and severely unwell, they are then said to have AIDS.
AIDS means: Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome.
- Acquired – Not born with received from someone else
- Immuno – Immune system, fights infection
- Deficiency – Not working properly
- Syndrome – Group of signs or symptoms
When a person has AIDS they have very little immune system left to fight disease. They will become very ill possibly with multiple diseases. The body is unable to protect itself. One of these diseases will cause that person to die. It is impossible to determine how long it will take for AIDS to develop once infected with HIV. Sometimes it is only a matter of months or it could be years.
Where did it come from?
There are many theories surrounding the origins of HIV. Here is a brief overview. For more in depth detail see http://www.avert.org/origins.htm
The origin of HIV has puzzled scientists for nearly 30 years since the first case was discovered. The first case of HIV was diagnosed in America in 1981. However there is evidence that HIV has existed longer than this.
It is generally thought that HIV is related to SIV Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, a virus that is found in monkeys and chimpanzees. So at some point the virus crossed over from chimpanzees to humans. This is what causes debate. The most accepted theory is the hunter theory. When hunters killed and prepared chimpanzee for eating. The blood from the chimpanzee entered the hunter though cuts and wounds. On a few occasions when SIV entered the body it mutated and adapted to be in a human host, becoming HIV.
How do you get HIV?
For a person to become infected with HIV they need to be exposed to the virus – The virus needs to enter their body. HIV is spread through certain bodily fluids such as blood, breast milk and sexual fluids. HIV is spread during sexual relationships, from a mother to her child or by blood contact.
Both men and women are able to become infected by having unprotected sex with an infected partner. However a women’s risk is higher due to her anatomy. There is also a risk of transmission when having oral sex. This is increased if a person has cuts, ulcers or bleeding gums in their mouth.
A mother can pass HIV to her child during pregnancy, childbirth and breast feeding. The chance of a mother passing HIV on to her child is about 30%. If the mother is newly infected with HIV then the risk during breastfeeding is increased.
HIV transmission through blood contact can happen in a variety of ways: through a blood transfusion, dirty equipment or by blood passing through a cut in your skin. Even if equipment such as razor blades or needles look clean, they can still carry HIV. Tools must be cleaned thoroughly between each user. See the prevention – blood contact section for more information on how to clean equipment.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
A person with HIV will have no symptoms. You cannot tell if a person has HIV by looking at them. The only way to diagnose HIV is by doing a blood test. After a person becomes infected with HIV they will feel fine for a long time. Once the virus begins to break down the immune system then the person will begin to feel unwell and weak. It is impossible to predict how long it will take for the immune system to begin to fail. These initial symptoms could easily be confused with many other illnesses. The feeling of weakness will happen more often and become worse each time. This is because the immune system is gradually becoming more damaged. As the body gets weaker more symptoms develop. For example:
- unexplained loss of weight lasting at least one month;
- diarrhoea lasting for several weeks;
- a white coating on the tongue (thrush/oral candidiasis);
- enlarged or sore glands (lymph nodes) in the neck, armpits, and/or groin, as well as generalised swollen glands;
- a cough that persists for more than one month;
- persistent fever and/or night sweats;
- in women, persistent vaginal candidiasis (yeast infection).
After this stage opportunistic infections will develop. These are infections that develop because the immune system cannot fight against them. AIDS is the late-stage of HIV infection. A person is said to have AIDS when they have one or more opportunistic infections. AIDS will develop in different ways. People with AIDS have serious, life threatening illness which may start suddenly or develop more slowly. A person with AIDS generally loses weight (wasting syndrome) and becomes ill with opportunistic infections for example:
- severe diarrhoea;
- skin cancer called Kaposi sarcoma;
- rapid weight loss;
- toxoplasmosis, Form of parasite;
- neurological problems, forgetfullness, clumsyness, confusion;
- cytomegalovirus eye infection.
It is one of these infections that will eventually cause death. The time between becoming infected with HIV and death is impossible to predict, it is different for every individual.
Is there a cure for HIV?
The short answer is no. There is no cure for HIV, no vaccine. Scientists are working to try and find one but as yet there is nothing. However, ther are drugs available called antiretrovirals. These are drugs that suppress HIV and stop it from destroying the immune system as quickly. A person still has HIV when they are taking these drugs and can still pass HIV on to others, the antiretrovirals only slow the process of HIV. Another way to help a person with HIV is to try and keep them healthy for as long as possible. A good diet is essential and will help keep the immune system stronger for longer. Opportunistic infection can be treated with antibiotics or other appropriate drugs depending on the infection.
People with HIV need support from others. Do not reject people with HIV, you should accept them. There should be no stigma attached to HIV. There are also drugs available which will reduce the risk of transmission from mother to child, ask at your local health centre or hospital.
How do you protect yourself from HIV?
Prevention is the key to stopping the spread if HIV. There are three ways of transmitting HIV. Each way of transmission can be prevented.
Follow a simple ABC approach.
- Be Faithful
Abstaining from sexual activity is the most effective way to protect yourself from HIV. It is your body and your life: do not have a sexual relationship with anyone you do not want to. Avoid having sexual relationships with anyone before you are married, save yourself for your life partner. Once you have formed a life long relationship do not break it. Be faithful to one partner, do not put yourself or your partner at risk. Use condoms correctly and every time you have sex. Condoms not only protect you from HIV but also from other sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy.
Mother to child transmission
The risk of mother to child transmission is at it highest if the mother is newly infected. If you discover you are pregnant it is important to take every care to avoid risk of infection. There are drugs available that can reduce the risk of a mother passing the the HIV infection to her child. ask about these drugs at your local health centre or hospital.
If your have cuts on your skin, especially your hands be careful. Do not touch any blood, do not perform any activities that involve cutting into skin and do not touch instruments that have been used for cutting skin.
Any equipment used that cuts through skin needs to be sterilised between each use, such as barber’s razor blades, ear piercing needles and circumcision tools. To clean the equipment effectively, the item needs to be boiled in water for at least 20 minutes. alternatively, the item can be soaked for 30 minutes in one of the following.
- Glutaraldehyde 2%
- Rubbing alcohol 70%
- Polyvidone iodine 2%
- Surgical spirit 70%
- Chlorine solution 0.5%
- Hydrogen peroxide 6%
Please note, leaving items of equipment to soak in some of the above solutions for extended periods may cause damage to the item. To avoid this, do not significantly exceed the 30 minute soaking time.
Informations compiled with the support of our partners http://www.workingtoempower.org andhttp://www.aiesec.org