HIV/AIDS has been known to us for nearly 40 years, but how much do you actually know about the virus?
- HIV was discovered in the 1980s
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was discovered in the 1980s. It infects key cells in the immune system, gradually weakening your body’s ability to fight other diseases and infections. The later stage of infection is known as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS.
During this stage the immune system is severely impaired, leaving an AIDS sufferer susceptible to ‘opportunistic infections’, such as tuberculosis and other infections which take advantage of weak immune systems.
- HIV does not discriminate
There is a misconception, both cruel and dangerous, which still persists. It’s the idea that HIV is limited to a sexual preference, sex or race.
When AIDS was first discovered it was thought to be a disease confined to the gay community in the US but this proved to be false. HIV can infect men, women and children of any creed or colour. It knows no boundaries and plays no favourites.
- Two main ways to get the disease
There are two main ways people contract the disease: unprotected sexual contact and needle sharing. It can also be passed on from mother to child, either through shared blood circulation during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
In the past, when research on the disease was in its infancy, it was transmitted through infected blood used in transfusions. However, nowadays stringent checks make this virtually impossible.
- Casual contact is safe
Social kissing, hugging, sharing a toilet or dinnerware does not transmit HIV. Also, it should be made clear that sweat, tears and saliva cannot carry the virus either, whereas blood, sexual fluids and breast milk can.
Many people suffering from HIV/AIDS have been cruelly ostracised by their communities because of misunderstandings about how the disease can be contracted.
Mosquitoes, ticks and other blood sucking insects cannot carry the disease either.
- Treatment of HIV has come a long way
Since the 1980s, great strides in research have improved the lives of HIV/AIDS sufferers. At one time a diagnosis of HIV was basically a death sentence.
Thanks to the discovery of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) the number of HIV-related deaths declined by up to 80% in the mid-1990s. In 2018, with early detection of the virus and prescribed treatment, an HIV-positive person can expect to live a long, full life.
Preventative treatment has also made progress over the last couple of decades. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment can reduce the risk of contracting HIV from an HIV positive sexual partner by up to 90% and by 70% from injecting drugs.
PrEP is generally used by an HIV negative person who has an HIV positive partner, but the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends it for people who inject drugs and have sex without condoms.
- Get yourself checked
All these facts illustrate the importance of early diagnosis when it comes to treating and surviving HIV. The first stage of infection often presents as flu-like symptoms, such as rashes and swollen glands, however not everyone experiences them.
It is not uncommon for people to live for years being HIV positive without knowing. During this time the virus is slowly destroying their immune system which will lead to a myriad of problems without treatment.
The only way to know for sure is to get yourself tested, especially if you are sexually active and have unprotected sex.
If you are HIV positive, the sooner you get diagnosed the sooner you can start treatment and maximise your chance of living a normal life.