Some useful/ Important questions about AIDS
Q. What is HIV?
Ans. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS. This virus is passed from one person to another through blood, using shared needles and sexual contact. In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their baby during pregnancy or delivery, as well as through breast-feeding. People with HIV have what is called HIV infection. Most of these people develop AIDS as a result of HIV infection.
These body fluids have been proven to spread HIV:
• vaginal fluid
• breast milk
• other body fluids containing blood.
Other additional body fluids that may transmit the virus that healthcare workers may come into contact with are:
• cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord
• synovial fluid surrounding bone joints
• amniotic fluid surrounding a foetus.
Q. What is AIDS? What causes AIDS?
Ans. AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. An HIV-infected person receives a diagnosis of AIDS after developing one of the CDC-defined AIDS indicator illnesses. An HIV positive person who has not had any serious illnesses also can receive an AIDS diagnosis on the basis of certain blood tests (CD4+ counts).
A positive HIV test result does not mean that a person has AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS is made by a physician using certain clinical criteria (e.g. AIDS indicator illnesses).
Infection with HIV can weaken the immune system to the point that it has difficulty fighting off certain infections. These type of infections are known as “opportunistic” infections because they take the opportunity a weakened immune system gives to cause illness.
Many of the infections that cause problems or may be life-threatening for people with AIDS are usually controlled by a healthy immune system. The immune system of a person with AIDS is weakened to the point that medical intervention may be necessary to prevent or treat serious illness.
Q. Where did HIV come from?
Ans. We do not know. Scientists have different theories about the origin of HIV, but none have been proven. The earliest known case of HIV was from a blood sample collected in 1959 from a man in Kinshasha, Democratic Republic of Congo. (How he became infected is not known.) Genetic analysis of this blood sample suggests that HIV-1 may have stemmed from a single virus in the late 1940s or early 1950s.
We do know that the virus existed in the United States since at least the mid to late 1970s. From 1979-1981 rare type of pneumonia, cancer, and other illnesses were being reported by doctors in Los Angeles and New York among a number of gay male patients. These were conditions not usually found in people with healthy immune systems.
In 1982 public health officials began to use the term “Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome,” or AIDS, to describe the occurrences of opportunistic infections, Kaposi’s sarcoma, and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in healthy men. Formal tracking (surveillance) of AIDS cases began that year in the United States.
The cause of AIDS is a virus that scientists isolated in 1983. The virus was at first named HTLV-III/LAV (human T-cell lymphotropic virus-type III/lymphadenopathy-associated virus) by an international scientific committee. This name was later changed to HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).
The inescapable conclusion of more than 15 years of scientific research is that people, if exposed to HIV through sexual contact or injecting drug use, may become infected with HIV. If they become infected, most of them will eventually develop AIDS.
Q. How long does it take for HIV to cause AIDS?
Ans. Since 1992, scientists have estimated that about half the people with HIV develop AIDS within 10 years after becoming infected. This time varies greatly from person to person and can depend on many factors, including a person’s health status and their health-related behaviours.
Today there are medical treatments that can slow down the rate at which HIV weakens the immune system. As with other diseases, early detection offers more options for treatment and preventative healthcare.
Q. How can I avoid being infected through sex?
Ans. You can avoid HIV infection by abstaining from sex, by having a mutually faithful monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner or by practicing safer sex. Safer sex involves the correct use of a condom during each sexual encounter and also includes non-penetrative sex.
Q. How can children and young people be protected from HIV?
Ans. Children and adolescents have the right to know how to avoid HIV infection before they become sexually active. As some young people will have sex at an early age, they should know about condoms and where they are available. Parents and schools share the responsibility of ensuring that children understand how to avoid HIV infection, and learn the importance of tolerant, compassionate and non-discriminatory attitudes towards people living with HIV/AIDS.
Q. Can injections transmit HIV infection?
Ans. Yes, if the injecting equipment is contaminated with blood containing HIV. Avoid injections unless absolutely necessary. If you must have an injection, make sure the needle and syringe come straight from a sterile package or have been sterilised properly; a needle and syringe that has been cleaned and then boiled for 20 minutes is ready for reuse. Finally, if you inject drugs of whatever kind, never use anyone else’s injecting equipment.
Q. What about having a tattoo or your ears pierced?
Ans. Tattooing, ear piercing, acupuncture and some kind of dental work all involve instruments that must be sterile to avoid infection. In general, you should refrain from any procedure if the skin is pierced, unless absolutely necessary.
Q. Is it safe to work with someone infected with HIV?
Ans. Yes. Most workers face no risk of getting the virus while doing their work. The virus is mainly transmitted through the transfer of blood or sexual fluids. Since contact with blood or sexual fluids is not part of most people’s work, most workers are safe.
Q. How can I tell if I have HIV infection?
Ans. The only way to know for sure if you have this virus is by taking a blood test called the “HIV Antibody Test.” Some people call it the “HIV Test” or the “AIDS Test,” even though this test alone cannot tell you if you have AIDS. The HIV test can tell you if you have the virus and can pass it to others in the ways already described. The test is not a part of your regular blood tests – you have to ask for it by name. It is a very accurate test.
If your test result is “positive,” it means you have HIV infection and could benefit from special medical care. Additional tests can tell you how strong your immune system is and whether drug therapy is indicated. Some people stay healthy for a long time with HIV infection, while others develop serious illness and AIDS more rapidly. Scientists do not know why people respond in different ways to HIV infection. If your test is “negative,” and you have not had any possible risk for HIV for six months prior to taking the test, it means you do not have HIV infection. You can stay free of HIV by following prevention guidelines.
Q. How can I tell if I am infected with HIV? What are the symptoms?
Ans. The only way to determine for sure whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection. You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether or not you are infected with HIV. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for many years.
• dry cough
• recurring fever or profuse night sweats
• profound and unexplained fatigue
• swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
• diarrhoea that lasts for more than a week
• white spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth, or in the throat
• red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
• memory loss, depression and other neurological disorders.
However, no one should assume he is infected if he has any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be related to other illnesses. Again, the only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection.
Q. How long after a possible exposure should I wait to get tested for HIV?
Ans. The tests commonly used to detect HIV infection actually look for antibodies produced by your body to fight HIV. Most people will develop detectable antibodies within three months after infection, the average being 25 days. In rare cases, it can take upto six months. For this reason, the CDC currently recommends testing six months after the last possible exposure (unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex or sharing needles). It would be extremely rare to take longer than six months to develop detectable antibodies.