First reported in 1981 as a rare lung infection, what we now know as AIDS has become a worldwide epidemic. Scientists believe the virus originated from Western Africa. According to recent studies, it is thought that HIV may have jumped from monkeys to humans as far back as the late 1800’s (aids.gov).
A common misconception is that people think you immediately contract AIDS when you are exposed (I will elaborate on exposure below) to someone who had AIDS, but you actually contract HIV. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The short version is that this virus infects your body, attacks your T-cells and uses them to replicate themselves and repeat the process. When your T-cell number gets to a certain low threshold, you are diagnosed with AIDS. AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
HIV is found in blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), breast milk, vaginal fluids, and anal mucous. It can be transmitted by-
- Sexual Contact
- Injection Drug Use
- Pregnancy, Childbirth, & Breast Feeding
- Blood Transfusion/Organ Transplant
- Accidental Exposure (i.e. needle stick)
Transmission occurs when there is contact to a mucous membrane, cut, or sore. The most common ways that transmission occurs are through sexual contact (oral, vaginal, anal), sharing needles, or through childbirth.
While HIV/AIDS seems grim, it isn’t a death sentence. There are treatments for HIV/AIDS and many people can live out a relatively normal life. Antiretroviral therapy (‘The Cocktail’) is used to treat HIV. This can help extend your life, lower your chances of developing a non HIV-related illness, and help reduce the chance you will transmit the virus to others. If diagnosed with HIV, it is very important to seek medical attention to get on a treatment plan. Taking the prescribed medications from your health care provider is imperative to keep you healthy as long as possible.
It is very easy to reduce your risk of exposure by knowing your status. Get tested. You have nothing to lose by doing it and everything to gain. In this instance, ignorance is not bliss. You cannot tell by looking at someone if they are infected or not.
Using a barrier is a fantastic way to help prevent contact with fluids that can transmit the virus. Barriers include condoms (male and female) and dental dams. Latex and polyurethane are the best materials for prevention. Lambskin condoms, which are a natural material, have a permeable membrane which impede sperm from crossing because they are too large, but HIV, which is much smaller, and can cross through. Also, it is important to not share needles.
We (the world) have made great progress against the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but there is still much that needs to be done. Prevention is key, but we need to focus on the lessening the stigma that comes with an HIV diagnosis. With advocacy, education, and testing we can hope to reduce the number of new infections. Currently MSM (men who have sex with men, all races and ethnicities) and African Americans are at the highest risk for transmission. The CDC estimates that there are 1.1 million people in the United States who are infected with HIV, and here is the kicker, nearly one in five of those infected are not aware that they are infected.
While this is not as lighthearted as many of my posts, the message is just as important. There is so much more to be said about this epidemic, but I wanted to get the basics out there. My hope is that you will take away the following-
- Know your status. Get tested
- Practice safer sex
- Never share needles
- Know that HIV is not a death sentence
- And, education and advocacy can help reduce future transmissions
Infographic on HIV/AIDS today in the United States