What is HIV
HIV means “Human Immunodeficiency Virus.” The virus mainly damages the natural defense system of the body known as the immune system. The body will experience difficulties while fighting off diseases when the immune system is weakened. The immune system mainly comprises of white blood cells. HIV is known to attack a form of white blood cells known as CD4+ cells hence making one’s body susceptible to infections it cannot defend itself against. HIV eventually leads to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) which is its last stage. The transition from HIV to AIDS takes long (even more than ten years). Therefore, you should not confuse HIV with AIDS. If you’re diagnosed with HIV early enough before it progresses to AIDS, you can take antiretroviral drugs to minimize the damage to your immune system. If HIV becomes AIDS, your CD4 count will depreciate, and you can be predisposed to cancers and infections that healthy people scarcely experience. However, you can take medicine to help boost your immune system and live longer.
Causes of HIV
You will become infected with HIV if vaginal secretions, infected blood or semen enters your body. Ordinary contact such as kissing, shaking hands, hugging, dancing or sharing utensils with infected people will not expose you to the virus. Also, the disease cannot be transmitted via water, air or insect bites. HIV can be transmitted through the following ways:
- Through blood transfusions – In the contemporary world this risk has been significantly reduced through screening for HIV antibodies in hospitals and blood banks.
- Through sex – You can contract HIV if you have unprotected sex whether oral, vaginal or anal with an infected partner. If vaginal secretions, semen or blood of an infected individual enters your body, then you will get infected. The virus might penetrate into your body through mouth sores or tears that occur during sex.
- Through breastfeeding or delivery – If proper care isn’t administered, pregnant women can end up infecting their babies. However, the risk to their babies can be greatly reduced if they receive necessary treatment for HIV infection during pregnancy. Breast milk of an infected mother also contains the virus. Therefore, it’s not advisable to breastfeed if you have HIV.
- Through sharing needles – If the needles and syringes being shared are contaminated with infected blood, then they will transmit the virus.
How to Prevent HIV
According to researchers, HIV is often transmitted by individuals who don’t know they are victims. It’s therefore advisable to know your status and protect not only yourself but others as well through taking the following prevention steps:
- Never share your syringes or needles with anyone
- Do not have multiple sex partners at the same time. It’s way safer to have only one sex partner who indulges in sexual activity with you only
- Practice safer sexual intercourse by using a condom during sex (whether oral, vaginal or anal) until you’re sure your partner isn’t infected with HIV
- Never share personal items such as razors or toothbrushes
- Don’t get “high” on illegal drugs drink too much alcohol before sex because you will not be able to practice safer sex
- Before you engage in sexual activity with your partner for the first time, talk to them to determine if they’re at risk for HIV. It’s advisable to get tested together regularly after the first test (after 6, 12, and 24 weeks) to ensure neither of you is infected. Meanwhile, you can use condoms.