Since the first case of HIV/AIDS in 1981, knowledge in this area has evolved greatly. And yet, many people still suffer from this disease. There are several effective ways to prevent this scourge; do you know what they are?
For many years, we have been hearing about HIV and AIDS, yet many myths about the disease are still circulating in our society. Would you be able to tell fact from fiction? A delicate topic, HIV and AIDS can be prevented — but for that, we have to talk about it.
The term HIV stands for “human immunodeficiency virus.” It is a virus that infects the cells of the immune system, the body’s defence system. When a person is infected with HIV, we say they are HIV seropositive. Once the immune system is weakened, the virus prevents the body from fighting off infections, which causes a range of symptoms. That is when we talk of AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It takes an average of ten years for an HIV infection to lead to AIDS.
If you think that HIV/AIDS only affects gay men or drug users, think again. Heterosexuals, women and young people are also at risk. HIV does not care who you are or where you live; what matters is what you do.
For a person to become infected with HIV, the virus has to enter their bloodstream. HIV cannot survive outside the body. It is transmitted from one person to another through contact with infected bodily fluids such as vaginal secretions, semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid, breast milk and blood. The most common means of HIV transmission are:
- unprotected sexual relations (anal, vaginal, oral) with an infected person
- sharing of syringes or other drug injection equipment
- use of unsterilized needles (tattoos, acupuncture, etc.)
- from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding
The virus cannot be transmitted through regular everyday contact with other people. You cannot become infect with HIV from someone coughing, sneezing, shaking your hand or giving you a hug. Nor can you become infected from cutlery, swimming pools, toilet seats or water fountains.
If you think you may be infected with HIV, there is a blood test that can detect the virus in your blood. However, you have to wait three to six months after the risk behaviour in order to detect the virus.
Prevention and treatment
The best way to prevent HIV/AIDS is to protect yourself during sex. The use of a condom during all types of sexual contact greatly helps prevent the virus. In addition, condoms prevent the transmission of other sexually transmitted infections. It is equally important for drug users to avoid sharing their syringes or any equipment used for drug injection.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, nor is there any vaccine. However, research carried out over the last few years has led to the development of drugs that can help control the disease. This medication enables infected people to live longer with the disease. Although some effective treatments are now available, prevention remains the best way to eradicate HIV/AIDS.
HIV and AIDS still affect too many people. Each person can make a difference by taking the necessary preventive measures. Think about it and protect yourself!