Every year the world celebrates World AIDS Days on 1st December, as an opportunity to unite the people from around the world for a fight against the epidemic. The day is a way to showcase support for those who have been living with HIV and to commemorate the ones who lost their lives from AIDS-related illness. It was founded in 1988 and was the first-ever day dedicated to human health.
What is HIV-AIDS?
Commonly referred to as HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus is a virus which weakens the body’s immunity to fight disease-causing germs. The virus is generally transmitted through infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions.
Once the virus is transmitted and is left untreated, then it can cause the human body to develop Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The disease is the final stage of HIV infection and causes result in severely impaired immunity of the human body.
It is shocking to learn that even after so many years of its discovery; there is no possible way to cure HIV infection completely. However, early diagnosis and treatment can slow its progression.
Three stages of HIV infection:
Primary or acute infection: Initially the virus attacks the immune system by multiplying itself. It primarily affects the CD4 white blood cells. The affected person may exhibit Flu-like HIV symptoms. The phase lasts for a few months. The affected person is likely to spread the virus to others.
After spreading for a long while, the reproduction stage of virus slowdowns and the patient may not showcase much of the HIV symptoms. However, there are still chances of spreading HIV to others. If proper treatment is not being received, this stage can last for 5 to 10 years.
If the virus is not being treated for a long while, it will start to reproduce at a higher pace, and attack CD4 cells again. When CD4 cells fall below 200 cells/mm3 (500 to 1,600 cells/mm3 is normal), the infected person starts to develop AIDS. At this stage, your immunity becomes very weak and you become vulnerable to all kinds of infections – known as opportunistic infections.
The symptoms usually start to develop a month after the infection. As discussed above, while in the first stage, many symptoms may occur, in the later stages no symptoms may be noticeable. Following are some of the main symptoms:
– Sore throat
– Prolonged fever
– Aches and pains
– Night sweats
– Weight loss
– Skin rash
– Persistent diarrhoea
– Mouth ulcers
– Swollen lymph glands on the neck
– Blurred vision
– HIV prevention
How can HIV infection be transmitted?
An HIV infection can be transmitted in several ways, including:
– Unprotected sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal) and oral sex
– Blood: Blood transfusion, sharing HIV-contaminated needles, syringes or other piercing instruments (e.g. for tattooing or acupuncture or shaving blades)
Mother to baby: During pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding
Special Note: While there is a common misunderstanding regarding the same, HIV can’t be transmitted or infected through regular social contact, hugging, kissing, or shaking hands. Also, it can’t be transmitted through air, water, food, toilet seats or insect bites.
General Precautions to avoid HIV infection
– Do not involve in casual and unprotected sexual intercourse. Also, limit your sex partners.
– Always use condoms (male or female) correctly every time while involving in any kind of sexual activity, including oral sex.
– To stay on the safer side, get a regular check-up for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
– Avoid sharing needles/syringes and other piercing instruments and only used sterilised ones.
– In case you have to get a blood transfusion, check for HIV-screened blood only.
If you believe that there is a high-risk for HIV, you should see your physician and consider the following:
– Regular HIV testing
– PrEP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis) medication, as per your doctor’s consultation.
How to prevent HIV transmission?
In case you have failed to stay safe and got HIV infection, and then at least try to avoid spreading it to others. You can:
– Get Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) to treat your HIV infection.
– Tell your sexual partners about your HIV status.
– Avoid casual unprotected sex and opt for less risky sexual behaviour.
– Always use a condom while involving any kind of sexual activity.
– Don’t Share your needles/syringes/piercing instrument with anyone else.
Note: although HIV is highly contagious and incurable, it can be prevented from spreading in two simple ways. One is protecting yourself from contracting HIV infection and second is preventing transmission of HIV infection to others.
WHY IS WORLD AIDS DAY IMPORTANT?
As per a study by WHO (World Health Organisation), around 35 million people, including 3.2 million children (<15 years old), were infected with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2013. HIV-AIDS is one of the most destructive pandemics in history because, since its identification in 1984, it has taken more than 35 million lives. Currently, there are an estimated 36.7 million people around the world who are infected with this virus.
There have been several advancements for the treatment of HIV, and laws have been strengthened to for protection of HIV patients and to stop the epidemic from spreading. There is still a lot of awareness and education that needs to be fostered for an HIV safe world. This is where World AIDS day comes into the role because, it reminds the public and government that HIV has not gone away and that there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education for HIV-AIDS.