HIV is a virus and at the same time an infection. It stands for human immunodeficiency virus. The virus was identified in humans back in the 1980s in Western and Central Africa. At first, it was believed to have been acquired from chimpanzees. However, there are many different theories trying to explain the origin of the infection.
HIV attacks the immune system and destroys it slowly. As the virus continues to stay in the blood of an infected person, it develops into various stages and the last stage is AIDS. As this infection stays in your body, it feeds and destroys the main cells responsible for protection of the body against infection.
These are the CD4 cells. As time goes on and the virus multiplies in the body, the CD4 cells count reduces. This leaves the body very weak and creates room for entry of other infections that possess danger to the infected person.
The main carrier of the virus is human fluids. These are fluids such as semen and blood.
Main causes of HIV
The main cause of HIV is transmission from one person to another. This is mainly facilitated by exchange of fluids with an infected person. The fluids carrying the virus may include; sexual fluids, blood or breast milk. Ways through which this can happen include:
- Unprotected sex: This is considered to be the most common cause of HIV. Sex without protection, (a condom), is said to contribute to more than half of HIV transmission cases all over the world. Once a person is infected, the virus circulates throughout the body. If you have sex with an infected person without a condom, you have very high risk of getting the virus. Transmission through sex involves both anal and vaginal sex. It is also important to note that gay sex is the riskiest method of transmission. According to research, anal sex can easily spread HIV as compared to other types of sex.
- Mother to child: This is a case where the cause of the virus can be transmission from the mother to the child. This can happen before or during birth and through breastfeeding. If the blood of the mother mixes with the child's before birth, then the virus is transmitted. Consequently, if the fluids of the two mix, the baby gets the virus. The virus is also passed through breastfeeding of a child by an infected mother. However, as a result improvement of medical services in the world, infected mothers can be able to give birth to uninfected babies and keep them safe. To accomplish this, the baby is not allowed to feed on its mother’s milk.
- Blood transfusion: This is a factor that has caused a lot of problems in the past but can be managed. People offer to give their blood to people who need it in hospitals, many of whom are normally in critical conditions. Infected blood can however cause transmission of HIV. Every 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 of a person. If someone uses a sex toy used by an infected person, then he or she will be infected through the blood or sexual fluids of the infected person.
- Sharing sharp objects: These are some of other causes of HIV. If you share sharp objects, more especially piercing objects such as syringes, needles and other injecting objects with an infected person, you are at a high risk of being infected with the virus.
- Accidents: This is one of the most dangerous and unfortunate causes. 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 officers are also at a risk in case they prick themselves with infected needles.
- Accidents among health workers: This is a more unfortunate cause of HIV. However, the risk to this type is extremely low. This happens when health workers accidentally prick themselves with contaminated injections or needles.
Stages of HIV
It is important to understand the different stages of HIV since they play an important role in the transmission of the virus from one person to another. The viral load within these stages are different hence differences in the transmission rate.
- Early Stage - This is the first stage of HIV infection. During this stage, the victim experiences flu-like symptoms. However, it is important to understand that during this stage the virus cells are very active. As a result, an infected person can easily transmit the infection to another person.
- Asymptomatic Stage - It is also called latency stage. It is a less dangerous stage of HIV but the infected person can still pass the virus to other people. This period can last for around 10 years without the victim experiencing any serious symptoms.
- Symptomatic Stage - It is the last stage of HIV and more dangerous. Towards this stage, the body is very weak since the immune system is destroyed. The infected person experiences serious symptoms. It is also a stage for progression from HIV to AIDs.
How does it get into the body?
The following fluids are known to contain HIV virus from an infected person.
- Breast milk
- Lining of the anus
- Vaginal fluids
These fluids will mostly get into your bloodstream through the following ways.
- Through cuts or sores on your skin
- Injecting directly into the body which can happen through injecting equipment or contaminated needles
- Through the lining of the anus and other genital parts
- Through the lining of your eyes or mouth
Here is how the HIV virus enters and affects the body upon exposure to the virus. Once the virus cells enter the body, they circulate round the body at high speed and infect the CD4 cells which are the core cells of the immune system.
Once the HIV virus have entered the CD4 cells, they use them to multiply and make thousands of themselves. In the process, the immune system of the victim is destroyed. As these cells are leaving, they kill the CD4 cells.
Ways through which HIV is not transmitted
The following are ways through which HIV cannot be transmitted:
- Being bitten
- Sharing towels or baths
- Greeting an infected person
- Animal bites such as mosquito
- Sharing services such toilets
- Being squeezed by an infected person
- Use of the same swimming pool
Who is at risk?
- People injecting drugs
- Women having sex with men who are having sex with other men and if they are not using a condom
- Unprotected sex between men
- People with other sexually transmitted infections
- People having unprotected sex with people injecting drugs
- People with other sexually transmitted infections
- People who have received blood transfusion especially if there was no screening before the transfusion
The bottom line
There has been misunderstanding among very many people concerning ways through which HIV can be transmitted from one person to the other. As a result, many people do not know the real causes of HIV.
However, irrespective of numerous ways through which HIV can be transmitted it is possible to reduce the risk of having the virus.
HIV can also be transmitted through oral sex if a person has sores or wounds in the mouth. Kissing an infected person and you have sores in your mouth can lead to transmission of the infection.