Human immunodeficiency virus or HIV is a virus that attacks the cells of the immune system. In healthy people, the immune system acts as a defensive barrier that stops us from getting sick from things like the flu virus or a bacterial infection. In people with HIV, these defensive cells (known as CD4 Cells) are taken over by HIV and destroyed. This results in a weaker and weaker immune system and a progressively sicker individual.
What is AIDS?
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and is caused by HIV.
It is important to note that not everyone who is HIV positive has or will develop AIDS.
A person is said to have developed AIDS when HIV infection is very advanced, that is when HIV has attacked and destroyed the immune cells to a point where a person is no longer able to fight off infections and the number of CD4 Cells has dropped below a certain level in a HIV positive person. If left untreated, it can take about 10 to 15 years for HIV to damage the immune system enough for AIDS to develop.
How is HIV Transmitted?
HIV is transmitted through blood and body fluids such as semen and vaginal fluids. HIV can be transmitted through;
Unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV positive person, this includes vaginal, anal and oral sex (transmission from oral sex has a much lower risk), especially if you or your partner have cuts or ulcers in or around your mouth or genitals.
Sharing contaminated needles when injecting drugs.
Receiving blood from a contaminated transfusion.
Mother-to-child transmission, during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
Tattoos or Piercing with contaminated needles.
HIV cannot be transmitted through;
Sneezing, coughing, sharing cutlery, swimming pools, showers or toilet seats!
How to Protect Yourself Against Infection
Use a condom every time you have sex and learn to use them correctly! If you are an intravenous drug user, always use clean sterile needles.
Where Can I Get Tested?
You can have a HIV test completed at your local doctor, hospital or family planning clinic. Check out YEAH to find the nearest sexual health clinic near you.
What to do if I or someone I know tests positive
For many people finding out that you or someone you know is HIV positive is a very stressful and confusing time but there are MANY resources and organisations available all over Australia that can help you. YEAH’s site lists many of them.
HIV/AIDS in Australia, Past and Present
In 1987 annual HIV diagnosis was at an all-time high with over 2000 people diagnosed that year. The Australian government carried out a HUGE campaign to raise national awareness of HIV/AIDS. The number of new HIV diagnoses decreased until 1999, but since then the number of diagnoses has risen. In 2013 the number of cases increased by 10%, that is the largest increase in 20 years!
Women and HIV
Although the highest prevalence of HIV is among homosexual men in Australia, the number of women contracting HIV is on the rise. This is being attributed to an increasing number of young women travelling to countries, where they may not be aware there is a higher prevalence of HIV, and practicing unsafe sex or using drugs intravenously. Most women are infected as a result of heterosexual sex.
Top Myths about HIV/AIDS
It is super important to learn about the myths surrounding HIV/AIDS and how it is transmitted so that we can minimize the hurt, fear and discrimination of HIV positive individuals.
HIV/AIDS can be cured.Unfortunately this is a myth, HIV/AIDS cannot be cured but it can be treated. Antiretroviral drugs are able to keep HIV at very low levels which prevents AIDS and other infections from developing. This allows many HIV positive people to lead full lives.
HIV/AIDS is not a problem in developed countries like Australia and The US.HIV/AIDS is present in EVERY country worldwide. The availability of medication in developed countries has reduced the number of deaths from HIV/AIDS. But the number of people living with and contracting HIV/AIDS in developed countries has not decreased.
Being HIV positive is death sentence.While it’s true that HIV/AIDS has no cure it can be successfully treated with antiretroviral drugs that allow people with HIV to lead happy, full and long lives.
You can tell by looking at a person that they have HIV/AIDS.Not true, in some people it can take up to 10 years for HIV to show up and cause symptoms, but they are still able to transmit HIV. Medication is also available to HIV positive people which acts to reduce their HIV levels and help them live normal lives. So you cannot tell if a person has HIV. The best way to protect yourself from contracting HIV is to use a condom every time you have sex and if you are concerned that you may have been infected with HIV, head to your local doctor or family planning clinic for a test.
Only homosexual men and drug users can get HIV/AIDS.Actually HIV is transmitted primarily via heterosexual sex, and across the world just as many women are HIV positive as men.
HIV positive women will always have HIV positive babies.Women who know about their positive HIV status and get treatment early in their pregnancy have an approximate 2% chance of having a baby with HIV. Without treatment the risk is higher but not certain. HIV positive women are told not to breastfeed their babies as this is another way HIV can be transmitted.
An HIV positive person who receives treatment cannot spread the virus to others.This is not true, antiretroviral drugs act to reduce the amount of HIV in the body, it doesn’t eliminate it, so even if the person is taking medication they can still transmit HIV.
Women can’t give men HIV.It is rarer, but possible for women to transmit HIV to men, this is because the penis is only exposed to HIV positive women for the time that it is inside the vagina, rectum or mouth. It is more common for men to transmit the virus to women, as semen can remain for days inside the vagina, hence increasing the time of exposure to HIV.