Tuesday 1 December marked World AIDS day. It is important that you are aware and cautious of this infection so that you can look after both your own anybody else’s health.
AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is the most advanced stage of HIV infections.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the immune system leaving the body defenceless against other infections. If the virus is found early it is treatable and, with appropriate medication, the patient can lead a long and healthy life. In fact, the numbers of HIV positive patients aged 50 and over have increased over recent years.
However, if the virus goes undetected, the infection may worsen, which can ultimately lead to an AIDS diagnosis. In this case, along with the advanced stage of the HIV infection, patients usually also have one of the “AIDS defining” diseases.
AIDS is life-threatening. For that reason, it is very important to get tested early if you think you have been exposed to the virus. The earlier you find it, the earlier you can start the treatment – that is the only way to prevent AIDS.
HIV can be passed on through infected semen, vaginal fluids, rectal secretions, blood or breast milk. So, you would be at risk of contracting the virus if you:
- have had vaginal or anal sex without a condom, with a partner with a detectable viral load* and you are not taking HIV preventive medication
- 91% - 93% of HIV positive patients receiving treatment in 2019 contracted the virus through sexual relations.
- In the same period, the proportion of people accessing HIV care who acquired HIV through heterosexual sex (45,445 - 46.5%) was very similar to the proportion of people who acquired HIV through sex between men (45,771 - 46.8%).
- have shared drug-injecting equipment with someone positive of HIV
- have had oral sex with an HIV-positive partner
- if you are pregnant and you are HIV positive, you can pass the virus to the baby in the womb, during labour or breast-feeding. However, appropriate medication can prevent it from happening.
*If your partner is HIV-positive but is on treatment and has an undetectable viral load you are not at risk of getting HIV.
If you test positive you will need regular blood exams to monitor the development of the virus. After that, together with your doctor, you may start developing a treatment plan. There are a variety of treatments that can be combined to a single pill, so talk to your doctor and learn more about what is best for you.
However, the treatment is not capable of expelling the virus from your body. Instead, it will reduce the viral load to undetectable levels, which means that the virus is no longer sexually transmissible – most individuals reach this stage within six months of starting treatment. Still, because the virus continues in their bodies, HIV positive persons cannot donate blood.
You can find out more about AIDS here.