Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system, which is our body’s natural defence against illness. HIV infection destroys a type of white blood cell in the immune system called T-helper cell, and makes copies of itself inside these cells. T-helper cells are also referred to as CD4 cells.
The Virus destroys more CD4 cells and makes more copies of itself, and gradually breaks down a person’s immune system. Someone living with HIV, who is not receiving treatment, will have difficulty fighting off infections and diseases. If HIV is left untreated, it may take up to 10 or 15 years for the immune system to be so severely damaged that it can no longer defend itself. However, the speed of HIV progress varies depending on one’s age and health background.
According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Blacks/African Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV diagnosis, those living with HIV, and those who have ever received an AIDS diagnosis, compared to other races/ethnicities.
Picking up the Symptoms of HIV infection
The early symptoms of HIV infection includes :
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Severe headache
- Joint pain
- Muscle aches
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble swallowing
- Chronic cough
The later symptoms include:
- Mental confusion
- Short term memory
HIV Testing is Important
There is effective antiretroviral treatment that enables persons with HIV live a normal, healthy life. The earlier HIV is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can commence – leading to better long term health outcome. So regular testing for HIV is important.
Testing is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV. Many people can be asymptomatic and can live for many years without knowing they have the virus. Testing is quick, easy, painless, confidential and almost always free.
Getting Infected With HIV Virus
There are a lot of myths around how HIV is passed from one person to another (HIV transmission), but there are only a few ways you can get it. HIV is found in semen, blood, vaginal and anal fluids, and breast milk.
HIV cannot be transmitted through sweat, saliva or urine. You can only get HIV if the bodily fluids of someone who already has HIV get into your body. A person with HIV can pass the virus to others whether they have symptoms or not.
Modes of transmission include:
- Sex without a condom – condom protects you from hiv and any other sexually transmitted diseases or infections and also protects you from unwanted pregnancy.
- From mother to the unborn baby – Not taking proper medication during pregnancy and breastfeeding can lead to the child having HIV.
- Sharing injecting/sharp equipment – Using a dirty or a used injecting equipment or using a sharp object make you more susceptible to infection with the virus.
- Contaminated blood transfusion or organ transplant – before any blood transfusion or transplant make sure it’s tested before you continue just to be safe.
5 ways you can avoid HIV infection?
There are a number of ways you can reduce your chances of getting infected, such as;
- Abstinence for the young and unmarried and faithfulness to one partner(s) for the married remains top of the public advocacies to prevent all forms of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV.
- Male condoms or female condoms during sex is the best way to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections for those who can’t abstain from sex or have multiple sex partners.
- Abstain from IV drugs, always use a clean needle and syringe if necessary, and never share equipment.
- Pregnant women living with the virus can pass it on to their baby, or after giving birth through breastfeeding. Taking HIV treatment virtually eliminates this risk.
- Do not donate or receive blood transfusion without screening for HIV and other infectious diseases.
These 5 major considerations for avoiding HIV infection remains the road map for curbing the endemic HIV problem in the continent.