HIV/AIDS Awareness

Krishnasai Chalasani

The Worldwide HIV/Aids Pandemic

  • The first AIDS case was documented in 1981, and HIV has since spread worldwide. In 2009, almost 2 million people died worldwide, and the epidemic continues to spread.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the greatest number of people who are infected.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations' UNAIDS office estimate that over 33% of adults are infected with HIV in some areas of Africa. Millions of children have been orphaned.
  • The epidemic is also growing rapidly in Eastern Europe and Asia. More than 34 million people worldwide are now living with HIV.
  • There are growing concerns that some high-risk groups believe they don't have to be worried about HIV anymore. The fact that people now live longer with HIV doesn't change the fact that HIV is a life-threatening illness and can infect anyone who exchanges infected blood or sexual fluids with another person.

Key Points

  • HIV is spread through contact with the blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or breast milk of a person infected with HIV.
  • The most common way to get HIV is by having unprotected sex with a person who has HIV. (Unprotected sex means not using a condom.) Another common way to get HIV is by sharing drug injection equipment (such as needles and syringes) with a person infected with HIV.

Causes

Scientists believe a virus similar to HIV first occurred in some populations of chimps and monkeys in Africa, where they're hunted for food. Contact with an infected monkey's blood during butchering or cooking may have allowed the virus to cross into humans and become HIV.


How does HIV become AIDS?

HIV destroys CD4 cells - a specific type of white blood cell that plays a large role in helping your body fight disease. Your immune system weakens as more CD4 cells are killed. You can have an HIV infection for years before it progresses to AIDS.

People infected with HIV progress to AIDS when their CD4 count falls below 200 or they experience an AIDS-defining complication, such as:

  • Pneumocystis pneumonia
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Tuberculosis
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Cryptosporidiosis

Prevention

There's no vaccine to prevent HIV infection and no cure for AIDS. But it's possible to protect yourself and others from infection. That means educating yourself about HIV and avoiding any behavior that allows HIV-infected fluids — blood, semen, and breastfeeding - into your body.

To help prevent the spread of HIV:

  • Use a new condom every time you have sex. If you don't know the HIV status of your partner, use a new condom every time you have anal or vaginal sex. Women can use a female condom. Use only water-based lubricants. Oil-based lubricants can weaken condoms and cause them to break. During oral sex use a condom, dental dam — a piece of medical-grade latex — or plastic wrap.
  • Consider the drug Truvada. In July 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the drug Truvada to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted HIV infection in those who are at high risk. Truvada is also used as an HIV treatment along with other medications.

    When used to help prevent HIV infection, Truvada is only appropriate if your doctor is certain you don't already have an HIV or hepatitis B infection. The drug must also be taken daily, exactly as prescribed. And it should only be used along with other prevention strategies such as condom use every time you have sex.

    Truvada isn't for everyone. If you're interested in Truvada, talk with your doctor about the potential risks and benefits and whether it's right for you.

  • Tell your sexual partners if you have HIV. It's important to tell anyone with whom you've had sex that you're HIV-positive. Your partners need to be tested and to receive medical care if they have the virus. They also need to know their HIV status so that they don't infect others.
  • Use a clean needle. If you use a needle to inject drugs, make sure it's sterile and don't share it. Take advantage of needle-exchange programs in your community and consider seeking help for your drug use.
  • If you're pregnant, get medical care right away. If you're HIV-positive, you may pass the infection to your baby. But if you receive treatment during pregnancy, you can cut your baby's risk by as much as two-thirds.
  • Consider male circumcision. There's evidence that male circumcision can help reduce a man's risk of acquiring HIV.