1. What is it?
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is caused by a virus called Human Immunodeficiency Virus, HIV. White blood cells are part of the body’s defence (immune) system. They normally help the body fight off cancers and infections by germs. The HIV virus attacks and kills certain white blood cells, thus destroying this important defence function. As a result, AIDS patients easily develop infections and cancers which normally do not affect healthy persons. It should be emphasised that there is as yet no known cure for AIDS.
2. How do you get infected by HIV?
HIV is present in blood, semen, vaginal secretions. A person can be infected by the virus through 3 major routes:
(1) sexual contact
(2) blood and needles and
(3) mother to infant.
(i)Sexual contact: The virus is present in semen and vaginal secretions. The infection can be passed from men to men, men to women and women to men by various forms of sexual contacts, including vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse and oral sex. Anal sex is by far the riskiest.
(ii)Blood: HIV thrives in blood. Hence, it can be transmitted by contaminated blood and blood products. Injecting drug users are particularly at risk of contracting HIV through the sharing of unsterilized needles and syringes. HIV may also be transmitted by unsterilized instruments for tattooing, ear-piercing and acupuncture, but the actual chance of getting infected in these instances is, however, quite remote.(iii)Mother to infant: Women who are infected by the virus may pass the infection to their infant during pregnancy, around the time of birth, or during breastfeeding. HIV is not spread through air or social contact. It cannot be contracted by shaking hand, travelling, eating together, attending school, working or sharing a toilet with a person infected with HIV. There is also no evidence to suggest that HIV is spread by mosquito and other insect bites.
3. How long does it take for HIV to develop into AIDS?
About half of those who are HIV infected will develop AIDS within ten years. The others may be free of any signs and symptoms. They cannot be identified by appearance but can pass the virus to other persons. Currently, HIV cannot be eradicated. There are effective drug treatments to suppress the virus, restore the body immune system, delay the development of AIDS, prevent and treat opportunistic infections and hence death, and improve the quality of life of those infected people. Therefore, those people living with HIV are advised to be positive in facing their HIV positive status.
4. What are the symptoms?
Symptoms at an early stage of HIV include fever, swollen lymph nodes, throat infection, rash, joint and muscle pain. An HIV carrier may not have any initial symptoms and they cannot be identified by any external features. The most accurate way is to perform an HIV screening test.
5. Testing HIV testing shows whether a person is infected with HIV.
You should have an early HIV test if you or your partner: has acquired a sexually transmitted infection has had unprotected sex with someone of unknown HIV status; or has shared needles with others The following populations are known to be at higher risk of contracting HIV. They are recommended to have regular HIV testing every 6 to 12 months: Men who have sex with men Transgenders Female sex workers and their clients People who inject drugs Sex-partners of HIV positive individuals If you have been sexually active but not in the above situation, you may still consider HIV testing if you have never been tested before.
6. How can I reduce my risk of getting HIV?
When you have sex, always protect yourself and your partner by using a condom. Proper and consistent use of a condom for vaginal, oral and anal sex can reduce risk of HIV transmission. There is no way to tell by looking at someone if he or she has HIV. Choose not to have sex if your partner refuses to use a condom. Don’t use alcohol or drugs before you have sex. These substances can affect your judgment, causing you less likely to use a condom. If you are pregnant or planning to be, get tested for HIV as soon as possible. Antiretroviral prophylaxis and other effective preventive measures are available to help pregnant women who are HIV positive to significantly reduce the chance of passing HIV to the baby. People who inject drugs should avoid sharing needles with others and should receive methadone treatment as soon as possible.