- HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, a disease that destroys the body’s ability to fight off infections.
- There is no cure for HIV or AIDS
- AIDS is usually fatal.
- People become infected with HIV because of what they do, not who they are.
- There are only a few ways you can become infected with HIV.
- You can protect yourself from becoming infected with HIV.
- A blood test can show if you have been infected with HIV. The test is confidential.
HIV and AIDS
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Sound Serious? AIDS is currently the leading cause of death in men between the ages of 25 and 44 in the United States. Think women aren’t at risk? Think again. AIDS is the fourth leading cause of death women in the age group. AIDS is caused by HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which attacks the body’s immune system. Without immunologic protection, people with AIDS suffer from fatal infections and cancers.
You can be infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and have no symptoms at all. On average, it takes about 7 to 9 years for symptoms to develop. Most symptoms of AIDS are not caused directly by the HIV virus, but by an infection or other condition acquired due to the weakened immune system. Symptoms can include severe weight loss, fever, headaches, drenching night sweats, fatigue, severe diarrhea, shortness of breath, and difficulty swallowing. The symptoms tend to last for weeks or months at a time and do not go away without treatment. Since these symptoms are commonly seen in other diseases, you can’t assume any symptom is HIV/AIDS-related until you get laboratory test. See a doctor if you think you may be at risk or if you have symptoms.
The only way to tell of you have been infected with HIV is by taking an HIV blood test. The test can be performed at an AIDS testing site, a doctor’s office, or clinic. HIV testing includes pretest counseling and an explanation of the benefits of testing. You may want to seek anonymous testing. When you undergo anonymous testing, you’re identified only by number, and you’re the only one who finds out the test results. Health Horizons’ provides free confidential HIV testing in our office or in the privacy of your own home. The CDC National AIDS Hotline, 1-800-342-AIDS, can help you find a test site in your area. Home test kits are available.
There is no cure for HIV infection or AIDS.
If you have been exposed to HIV, you need to tell your sex partners and anyone with whom you have shared needles and syringes that they too may have been exposed to the virus. They should all be tested for HIV infection. Health Department can help you contact former partners if you don’t want to do this yourself.
Anti-HIV treatment is usually indicated once the T-cell count goes below 500 (indicating a very weakened immune system).
Therapy for the viral infection, with antiretroviral drugs, uses two classes of drugs: the nucleoside analogs (AZT, DDI, DDC, and D4T) and the new protease inhibitors. Treatment is complex and is shown to prolong life.
A major focus of HIV treatment is preventing other infections (opportunistic infection prophylaxis). For example, pneumocystis (PCP), tuberculosis, and systemic fungal infections can be effectively prevented, and all of these are big problems in HIV patients.
Treatment of pregnant women with AZT has been shown to substantially reduce transmission of HIV to the unborn baby.
HIV is spread in two main ways: through unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person, or through sharing drug needles or syringes with an infected person. Women infected with HIV also can pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy or birth.
HIV is not passed by everyday social contact. Touching, hugging and shaking hands with an infected person is safe. Some people think they may get HIV by donating blood. This is not so. A new needle is used for every donor, and you do not come into contact with anyone else’s blood. Donated blood is now always screened for HIV; therefore, the risk of getting it from a blood transfusion in the United States is very, very low. Kissing an infected person on the cheek or with dry lips is not a known risk. No cases of AIDS or HIV infection due to kissing have ever been reported.
Short of avoiding sex entirely, you can protect yourself by having safer sex. Stay with one partner with whom you have discussed AIDS and who is prepared to have safer sex. Latex condoms have been shown to prevent HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases. Personal items such as razors and toothbrushes also maybe blood contaminated. Do not share them with an infected person.