What is HIV

HIV is a virus. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Viruses such as HIV cannot grow or reproduce on their own, they need to infect the cells of a living organism in order to replicate (make new copies of themselves). The human immune system usually finds and kills viruses fairly quickly, but HIV attacks the immune system itself - the very thing that would normally get rid of a virus.

What is AIDS?

AIDS is a medical condition. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. A person is diagnosed with AIDS when their immune system is too weak to fight off infections.

What is the immune system?

The immune system protects your body against foreign objects and subsequent illness. It is made up of white blood cells, technically known as leukocytes. Approximately 2% of white cells are in the blood. The rest are elsewhere in the body, concentrating in places like the liver, spleen, and lymphatic system.

How does HIV cause AIDS?

AIDS is caused by HIV. HIV gradually attacks cells in the immune system. As HIV progressively damages these cells, the body becomes more vulnerable to infections. When the immune system weekend to a very low level, a person is said to have AIDS. It can be years before HIV has damaged the immune system enough for AIDS to develop.

What are the symptoms of AIDS?

A person is diagnosed with AIDS when they have developed an AIDS related condition or symptom, called an opportunistic infection, or an AIDS related cancer. The infections are called ‘opportunistic’ because they take advantage of the opportunity offered by a weakened immune system.

It is possible for someone to be diagnosed with AIDS even if they have not developed an opportunistic infection. AIDS can be diagnosed when the number of immune system cells (CD4 cells) in the blood of an HIV positive person drops below a certain level.

Is there a cure for AIDS?

Worryingly, many people think there is a 'cure' for AIDS - which make them, feel safer, and perhaps take risks that they otherwise wouldn't. However, there is still no cure for AIDS. The only way to stay safe is to be aware of how HIV is transmitted and how to prevent HIV infection.

There are drugs called antiretrovirals which are able to control the multiplication of the virus. As a result the viral load is lowered and the immunity is restored and the survival rate is increased. These drugs cannot completely kill the HIV virus

How long does it take for HIV to cause AIDS?

Without any medication, about half the people with HIV would develop AIDS within 10 years after becoming infected. This time varies greatly from person to person and depends on many factors. There are host specific and virus related factors which influence the progression of HIV infection.

Anti-retroviral treatment has dramatically changed the progression time between HIV infection and the development of AIDS.

How well does HIV survive outside the body?

HIV is unable to reproduce outside its living human host (unlike many bacteria or fungi, which may do so under suitable conditions), except under laboratory conditions; therefore, it does not spread or maintain infectiousness outside the human body.

How long after a possible exposure should I wait to get tested for HIV?

The test is a measure of a protein called an antibody. When HIV enter the body after a period of time the body produces antibodies and these are detected by the test. It can take some time for the immune system to produce enough antibodies for the antibody test to be detected. This time period can vary from person to person. This time period is commonly referred to as the “window period”. Most people will develop detectable antibodies within 2 to 8 weeks (the average is 25 days). Even so, there is a chance that some individuals will take longer to develop detectable antibodies. Therefore, if the initial negative HIV test was conducted within the first 3 months after possible exposure, repeat testing should be considered at 3 months after the exposure occurred to account for the possibility of a false- negative result. Ninety seven percent will develop antibodies in the first 3 months following the time of their infection. In very rare cases, it can take up to 6 months to develop antibodies to HIV.

Where can I get tested for HIV?

You can get tested for HIV from any STD clinic, or from a private laboratory after discussion with the doctor/health care worker. Everyone who is tested for HIV should be offered a private and confidential pre- and post- test discussion from an experienced health professional. This discussion should provide you with the opportunity to discuss your concerns, gain information and access support. At STD clinics trained medical staff carry out pre and post test counselling maintaining confidentiality

How is HIV passed from one person to another?

During unprotected penetrative sex with someone who is infected. This is the most common method by people in our country gets infected

HIV is also passed from a mother who is infected to her baby; this can occur during pregnancy, at birth and through breastfeeding.

By injection or transfusion of contaminated blood or blood products, donations of semen (artificial insemination), skin grafts or organ transplants taken from someone who is infected. Sharing unsterilized injection equipment that has previously been used by someone who is infected is a very efficient mode of HIV transmission.

Can I get HIV from kissing?

HIV is not transmitted by kissing, so kissing on the cheek is very safe. Even if the other person has the virus, your unbroken skin is a good barrier. No one has become infected from such ordinary social contact as dry kisses, hugs, and handshakes.

Open-mouth kissing is considered a very low-risk activity for the transmission of HIV. However, prolonged open-mouth kissing could damage the mouth or lips and allow HIV to pass from an infected person to a partner and then enter the body through cuts or sores in the mouth.

Can I get HIV from oral sex?

The virus is present in blood and semen which means that this is a possible transmission route. There may be increased risk if there is ejaculation, bleeding gums or sores anywhere in the mouth or around the lips (or genitals), or inflammation caused by common throat infections or sexually transmitted infections.

Can I get HIV from sharing a meal?

No.

Can I get HIV from using the same toilet?

No.

Can I get HIV through mosquito bites?

No.

Can a woman who has HIV pass on the disease to her unborn child or to her newborn child through breastfeeding?

An HIV-infected pregnant woman can pass the virus on to her unborn baby either before or during birth. HIV can also be passed on during breastfeeding. If a woman knows that she is infected with HIV, there are drugs she can take to greatly reduce the chances of her child becoming infected. Other ways to lower the risk include choosing to have a caesarean section delivery and avoid breastfeeding. Today there is evidence that if a mother wants to breast feed she is encouraged to do exclusively for 6 months without mixed feeding. Ideally the mother should be on antiretroviral therapy so that her viral load is low and the risk of transmission through breast milk thus becomes low.

Can I get HIV from visiting barber saloons, getting a tattoo or through body piercing?

When visiting the barber saloons, there is no risk of infection unless the skin is cut and infected blood gets into the wound. Traditional 'cut-throat' razors used by barbers now have disposable blades, which should only be used once, thus eliminating the risk from blood-borne infections such as Hepatitis and HIV. There are no reports that the virus has been transmitted in this manner.

If instruments contaminated with blood are not sterilized between clients and is used for skin piercing then there is a risk of HIV transmission. However, people who carry out body piercing or tattooing should follow procedures called 'universal precautions', which are designed to prevent the transmission of blood borne infections such as HIV and Hepatitis B.

Is there connection between HIV and other sexually transmitted infections?

HIV and other STIs can impact upon each other. The presence of STIs in an HIV infected person can increase the risk of HIV transmission by increasing the HIV viral load. This can be through a genital ulcer or through an inflammatory genital discharge.

An HIV negative person who has an STI can be at increased risk of becoming infected with HIV through sex. This can happen if the STI causes ulceration or breaks in the skin (e.g. syphilis or herpes), or if it stimulates an immune response in the genital area (e.g. Chlamydia or gonorrhea). HIV transmission is more likely in those with ulcerative STIs than non-ulcerative.

Using condoms during sex is the best way to prevent sexual transmission of infections, including HIV.

Can a person be HIV positive and be healthy looking?

Yes of course. During the early stage of HIV infection even though the virus is replicating in the body there are no symptoms. But that person can transmit the virus to another person. This has been the case among most of our HIV infected persons. The person with whom they had had a sexual encounter appeared healthy and did not suspect that the person may be carrying the HIV virus.