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HIV and AIDS: Everything You Need to Know

Know the Basics|Know the Differences Between HIV and AIDS|Know the Causes|Know the Risk Factors|Understand the Diagnosis & Treatment
HIV and AIDS: Everything You Need to Know

Know the Basics

HIV and AIDS are a global health epidemic that affects millions of people. In 2018 alone, around 770,000 people died due to complications resulting from HIV-related causes. Knowing the important facts about HIV and AIDS can greatly help in reducing the number of infections and deaths.

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that attacks a person’s immune system, leaving the body unable to fight off infections. This means that even the common cold can be deadly for someone with HIV. If left untreated, HIV can progress into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS.

While the number of deaths has slowly been dwindling due to advances in treating the virus, access to treatment is still limited, and infections are still on the rise.

To this day, there are still many myths and misconceptions regarding the transmission of HIV and AIDS.

This is why knowing the important facts about HIV and AIDS helps educate people about the risk, and prevents prejudice against people who have tested positive.

HIV and AIDS in the Philippines

According to reports from UNAIDS, the Philippines has the fastest growing number of AIDS cases in the Asia and the Pacific region.

Most notably, the number of youth who are infected with HIV have also gone up. These discoveries are very alarming, since globally, the number of HIV infections have gone down.

To prevent this disturbing rise in infection among young people, it is important to teach the youth about safe sex, and sex education in general. Knowing more about the risks of unsafe sex can help prevent future infections.

Know the Differences Between HIV and AIDS

What is HIV?

One of the important facts about HIV and AIDS that people need to know is what makes HIV different from AIDS.

HIV is a virus that affects a person’s immune system, leaving it vulnerable to infection. Unlike other viral infections, however, once a person tests positive for HIV, they have it for life.

HIV typically has three different stages, namely:

  • Stage 1 or acute HIV infection: When a person first gets sick with HIV, they experience flu-like symptoms, which is the body trying to fight off the infection. The initial symptoms usually appear within two to four weeks and can last a number of weeks more.

During this time, an infected person is highly contagious. This means that if they have unprotected sex, or share needles with someone, then they could easily pass the virus to someone else.

  • Stage 2 or clinical latency: At this stage, a person still has HIV, but the virus can lie dormant, or is reproducing at a very low rate. What this means is that an HIV-positive person won’t necessarily have symptoms, but they still have the virus.

This stage can last for a few years, especially for those who are taking medicine in order to treat the virus. However, if left untreated, it could potentially progress further to AIDS.

On the other hand, if a person regularly takes their medication, they can control their viral load, or the amount of HIV in the body, making it undetectable. This means that while they are still infected, the virus is suppressed. Having an undetectable viral load means that the person can’t infect someone else with HIV.

  • Stage 3 or AIDS: The third and final stage of HIV is AIDS. This means that the virus has progressed to a point that the person’s immune system is severely compromised. Once a person has AIDS, they can suffer from many illnesses.

Without treatment, a person with AIDS is likely to die within three years. People diagnosed with AIDS have a very high viral load, which means that they are highly contagious.

Know the Causes

Where Did the Virus Come From?

HIV was first identified in Central Africa, and it was discovered in a chimpanzee. It is theorized that the virus mutated, and then people got infected when they came into contact with the apes since they eat them as meat.

Eventually, the virus spread throughout the human population and became a global pandemic.

How Do People Get Infected?

One of the most important facts about HIV and AIDS is knowing what causes it and how people can get infected.

Both HIV and AIDS are contagious, however, they can only be transferred through certain body fluids. These include the following:

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Breast milk

These fluids need to come in contact with the mucous membranes (mouth, nose, lungs, eyelids, urethra, etc) of the body, or through damaged tissue. The most common ways of getting infected are through unprotected sex, or through sharing hypodermic syringes or needles.

Know the Risk Factors

Here are some of the things that can heighten the risk of being infected with HIV or AIDS:

  • Having unprotected sex, especially with multiple partners, is a risk factor for HIV.
  • Sharing needles, commonly for drug use, is another risk.
  • HIV can also be spread through oral sex.
  • Getting pricked by an infected needle often happens among health workers.
  • HIV can also be transmitted from mother to child through pregnancy, or breastfeeding.
  • Blood transfusions with contaminated blood are rare, but there have been cases where this has happened. It’s important to note that these cases are extremely unlikely as donated blood is always screened and tested.

For anyone who has engaged in any of these activities, it is very important to get tested for HIV in order to ensure that you did not get infected with the virus.

Compared to other viruses, HIV doesn’t survive long on surfaces, and outside the human body. In addition, it can only be transmitted through certain liquids. This means it cannot be spread by the following means:

  • Mosquito or insect bites
  • Saliva, tears, or sweat of an HIV positive person
  • Touching, hugging, or kissing a person with HIV

Being around a person who has HIV or AIDS, sharing utensils, and even sharing meals is completely safe, as there is no chance of being infected with HIV or AIDS with any of these activities.

Understand the Diagnosis & Treatment

Is HIV or AIDS curable?

Among the important facts about HIV and AIDS that everyone needs to know is how it can be treated. At the moment, there is no cure for HIV or AIDS.

However, people who have HIV can take the medication in order to manage their condition. Given enough time and if the medication is taken regularly, a person with HIV can have an undetectable viral load.

Having an undetectable viral load means that while the person is still infected with HIV, the virus has regressed to the point that there is very little risk of damage to the immune system.

This also means that they can no longer transmit HIV to other people. Still, it is important for them to keep taking their medication in order to prevent the virus from progressing further.

Lifestyle Changes & Home Remedies:

People with HIV or AIDS can take the following steps in order to maintain their health:

  • Have a balanced diet, and make sure to eat healthy food.
  • Engage in daily exercise to help keep your body healthy.
  • Avoid smoking, as this increases the risk for lung cancer.
  • It would also be best to avoid drinking alcohol since it could also cause health problems.
  • Make sure to take your medication regularly, and get in touch with your doctor in order to monitor your progress.

Being diagnosed with HIV or AIDS used to be a death sentence. But due to advances made in the medical field, as well as continuing research on HIV, it is no longer as deadly as it was before.

Despite this, it’s still important for people to be careful, and to avoid engaging in activities that could potentially cause them to get infected with HIV.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Jul 06
Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, M.D.