The Basics of HIV and AIDS

How common is HIV? It’s estimated that more than 35 million people worldwide are living with HIV, including around one million people in the United States. Although HIV disproportionately affects sub-Saharan Africa, it also exists in high concentrations in other regions, including South and Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. In 2013, an estimated 1,120 men who have sex with men (MSM) were diagnosed with HIV in the United States.

What are HIV and AIDS?

HIV is short for the human immunodeficiency virus. It’s a viral infection that impairs a person’s immune system, making it easier for them to get sick from diseases that healthy people are able to fight off. However, anyone can be infected with HIV, even if they don’t feel sick. The damage done by HIV to a person’s immune system is known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS.

What is HIV and AIDS?

HIV is short for the human immunodeficiency virus. It’s a viral infection that impairs a person’s immune system, making it easier for them to get sick from diseases that healthy people are able to fight off. However, anyone can be infected with HIV, even if they don’t feel sick. The damage done by HIV to a person’s immune system is known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS.

How is HIV spread?

  • AIDS is caused by a virus called the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The term AIDS refers to acquired immune deficiency syndrome or conditions that arise when your immune system can’t function properly.
  • HIV damages your body’s ability to fight off infections and disease. When you have AIDS, your immune system is severely damaged, making it hard for your body to fight off certain infections and some cancers.
  • Once people with HIV contract AIDS, their death becomes inevitable. There are more than 1 million Americans living with HIV in 2017. An estimated 40,000 new cases of HIV occur each year in America alone. That’s almost 100 new diagnoses per day!

However, there are treatments available that make living with HIV possible so long as a person takes medications regularly and gets frequent checkups at his or her healthcare provider’s office.
The spread of HIV from person to person is called HIV transmission. HIV is spread only through certain body fluids from a person who has HIV. These body fluids include:

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Pre-seminal fluid
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Rectal fluids
  • Breast milk
  • HIV transmission is only possible through contact with HIV-infected body fluids. In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by:

Having anal or vaginal sex with someone who has HIV without using a condom or taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV
Sharing injection drug equipment (works), such as needles or syringes, with someone who has HIV

The Basics of HIV and AIDS
The Basics of HIV and AIDS

How can I protect myself from HIV?

There are a number of ways you can lower your risk of getting HIV. The most important thing to remember is that there’s no sure way to avoid it altogether, but that doesn’t mean you should give up all your good judgment. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself Always use protection if you have casual sex (especially with someone whose status isn’t known) or if you share needles.

This is by far your best defense against contracting HIV. If you don’t know how to use condoms correctly, get familiar with them—find out how they work, practice putting them on, figure out what feels comfortable for both parties—before trying them out in real life.

There’s some research that indicates that antiretroviral drugs—which can slow down or prevent HIV from multiplying in your body—can reduce your risk for contracting it. If you’re not on meds, talk to your doctor about them, as well as whether or not you should be tested for HIV. You may want to wait until you’ve established a relationship with a medical provider before having an anonymous test.

How do I know if I have HIV?

If you’re worried about your own sexual health, it’s important to have open conversations with your partners about their health history. Additionally, since some STDs can be asymptomatic (no symptoms), getting regularly tested for STDs is a crucial part of practicing safe sex.

It’s also critical to make sure that condoms are used properly—condoms aren’t effective if they aren’t being used correctly.

Condoms can only protect against STDs when used for vaginal, anal, or oral sex; using them for a purpose other than their intended use does not ensure protection. The same goes for dental dams: If you’re trying to avoid pregnancy with a condom, it won’t work unless it covers both partners during oral sex.

How is AIDS diagnosed?

It’s important to note that many people who are infected with HIV don’t develop full-blown AIDS. Over time, their immune systems can become damaged in a way that leaves them vulnerable to infections that wouldn’t affect someone with a healthy immune system.

If your doctor suspects you have an infection caused by a virus, they might run blood tests to determine whether you have antibodies for specific viruses—this is one way to test for HIV.

However, a diagnosis of AIDS is based on the following criteria:

A drop in CD4 count to less than 200 cells/mm3. A CD4 count measures the number of CD4 cells in a sample of blood.

The presence of certain opportunistic infections.

While there is currently no cure for HIV/AIDS, several promising new treatments are being developed. With proper medical care, people with HIV can live relatively long lives; however, those without access to treatment have a life expectancy that is greatly reduced.

The question Is there a cure for AIDS? (or rather Will there be a cure in my lifetime?) hinges on whether or not antiretroviral therapy can halt the progression of the disease. The evidence thus far is encouraging, but it’s too early to tell if effective long-term treatment will be discovered.

As with most infectious diseases, it is likely that we will have periods where new drug treatments are developed, tested, and available; however, we may never fully eradicate HIV/AIDS from human populations due to ongoing mutations within different strains of HIV—much like how some viruses become resistant to antibiotics over time.

Can someone be cured but still infect others?

The discovery of antiretroviral medications has meant that people with HIV can live longer and healthier lives, but that doesn’t mean they cannot infect others. The most effective way to protect people is to encourage them to use condoms or other barriers when having sex.

Treating people who are HIV positive with antiretroviral medication, known as ART, means that they do not have any virus in their blood or semen, which is called an undetectable viral load.

However, once someone stops taking ART there is a chance that they will become infectious again.

The World Health Organization states that there is still some risk of transmitting HIV if a person’s viral load falls below 200 copies per milliliter (ml).

What are the symptoms of HIV/AIDS?

What are the symptoms of HIV/AIDS? When do they occur? Is there a range of progression to them? What can people living with HIV/AIDS expect in terms of symptomatic presentation as their illness progresses? How is an abnormal immune system presentation different from a normal immune system presentation? These are just some of the questions that will be addressed below. It should be noted that at present, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but treatment options (including those designed to suppress viral replication) have improved significantly over time.

Currently, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS. However, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) medications have led to a significant reduction in morbidity (development of symptoms) associated with HIV infection and a major increase in life expectancy.

Can I be tested at my local clinic?

The World Health Organization estimates that, as of 2009, 36.9 million people are living with HIV around the world; 1.8 million new cases were diagnosed in 2009 alone. Of those living with HIV, only 1 in 3 has been diagnosed—and that’s where you come in. To be tested for HIV is to have an opportunity to protect yourself and your partners from infection. There are several tests available today; your local clinic can tell you which one is right for you.

When do symptoms appear?

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is typically transmitted through sex, injection drug use, or from mother to child. There is no cure for HIV; patients require lifelong treatment with antiretroviral drugs (ART) to stay healthy. However, early detection increases a patient’s life expectancy by a decade or more. If you have been infected with any form of HIV, it is important to get tested immediately so that you can begin treatment as soon as possible.

What is treatment like?

Treatments for HIV have come a long way over time. In particular, it’s important to note that there are now three main classes of drugs (called antiretrovirals) that are used to treat those infected with or living with HIV. These drugs can be highly effective at helping your body fight off the virus; however, many people still struggle to find affordable treatment in areas where drug companies have lobbied against universal coverage.

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