What is HIV?
HIV is a virus that was discovered in the 1980s. It attacks a person's immune system, causing it to be too weak to fight outside infections. The HIV virus works by destroying white blood cells, called CD4 cells, in the immune system, and progresses through three stages, the last of which is AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). Many people are misinformed about HIV due to widespread hysteria and confusion. HIV is extremely frightening to people, because it cannot be cured and produces many serious symptoms. Once HIV progresses to its final stage called AIDS, the body is completely susceptible to infection, causing patients extreme sickness. HIV virus can be found in the bloodstream and bodily fluids of an infected person (semen, vaginal fluids, anal fluids, and breast milk). There are two different types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is a type that is very common and is the cause of nearly all AIDS cases in the world. HIV-2 causes an illness similar to AIDS and is mostly found in North and West Africa. It is not common in North America.
How can one get HIV infection?
The main cause of HIV infection is transmission from one person to another through the following:
- If you have sex without a condom with an infected person you run a very high risk of getting the virus. Transmission through sex involves both anal and vaginal sex.
- Mother to child - This is a case where the cause of the virus is transmission from a mother to her child. This can happen before birth, during birth, or through breastfeeding. If the virus in the mother crosses the placenta and gets to the fetus before birth, the virus is transmitted. During birth, a baby may get infected with the virus through the mother's cervical secretions and blood. After birth, the virus may also pass from mother to child through breast milk.
- Blood Transfusion - This is a factor that has caused a lot of problems in the past but can now be easily managed through compliance with safety procedures. Blood should be tested before transfusion to avoid giving a person infected blood.
- Sex Toys - This is a case where two or more people share sex toys. Sex toys carry blood or sexual fluids, which contain the virus if the user is infected.
- Sharing Sharp Objects - If you share sharp objects, especially piercing objects such as syringes, needles, and other injecting objects you are at a high risk for getting infected with the virus.
- Accidents - This is one of the most dangerous and unfortunate causes of HIV infection. In cases where people are involved in accidents such as car accidents and fluids or blood mix, there is a possibility of getting HIV from an infected person. Health workers are also at risk in case they prick themselves with infected needles, or otherwise accidentally cut themselves with infected objects.
From the above set of possible ways of getting an infection, it is obvious that the HIV virus is typically directly transmitted from one person to another. However, many myths about the transmission of HIV exist. These include:
1. A Person May Contract HIV By Living Around Others Who Are HIV-Positive.
This has been scientifically disproven without a doubt. There are a number of activities that do lead to transmission, but they all involve an exchange of bodily fluids. Therefore, taking part in the following things while living with HIV-positive people cannot transmit the virus:
- Kissing, hugging, or touching an infected person
- Eating food that is served or prepared by someone with HIV
- Breathing in the same area
- Sharing clothes, towels, toilets, showers, or swimming pools with HIV patients
- Using the same utensils for eating or drinking
2. HIV Is NOT Transmitted Through Oral Sex.
Sex is one of the main ways by which HIV is transmitted. This does involve all forms of sexual activity performed with an infected person without the use of condoms, including oral sex. Healthy sexual partners of those with HIV can contract the virus through any open sores on the mouth or genitals, and the great danger is that a person may be entirely unaware of having an open sore. Also, if a male partner who is HIV-positive ejaculates into the mouth of an uninfected partner whose mouth has open wounds or sores, the latter will likely contract the HIV virus.
3. HIV Is Only Transmitted Between Homosexuals.
HIV can affect people of all sexual orientations. However, when homosexual men have anal sex with each other, they are at a higher risk of HIV transmission if one of the partners is infected. This is because anal sex may cause tears in the anus lining, thus allowing the virus to more easily enter the body.
4. HIV-Positive Mothers Always Give Birth To HIV-Positive Children.
If you are HIV-positive and pregnant, this does not guarantee that your child will also be HIV-positive. There is normally no connection between a pregnant woman and her unborn child that will necessarily lead to the transmission of HIV to the child. However, HIV-positive mothers should take precautions during and after birth (such as not breastfeeding) to ensure that their babies are safe from the virus.
5. HIV Cannot Be Transmitted If The Patient Is Taking Their Medication
This is a belief that has caused many additional cases of HIV. Taking the prescribed ARV (antiretroviral) medications for the HIV virus does not mean that patients are unable to transmit the disease. ARVs only guarantee a reduction in the effects of HIV symptoms. They may reduce the risk of transmission by lowering the amount of the virus, but this does not fully prevent transmission.
The Bottom Line
It is important for HIV patients and their loved ones to receive accurate information about the condition. Always consult a doctor for the truth about medical myths you may hear. HIV is diagnosed through lab testing and certain symptoms or signs. People with HIV develop certain antibodies within three to twelve weeks of infection. When a person tests positive on the antibody test, the diagnosis is usually confirmed through other tests.