8 things you didn't know about HIV and AIDS
It's World Aids Day today, when people across the globe stand united in the fight against HIV. HIV has already claimed more than 34 million lives and remains a global health issue - it's estimated that as many as 18,000 people in the UK could be unaware they're living with HIV. Whilst it's true that medical advances now mean HIV is no longer a certain death sentence, for those who have contracted the virus, life-long medication and careful monitoring is needed.
What is HIV and AIDS?
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) causes an infection which, if not managed, can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). AIDS leads to progressive immune system failure which can cause cancer and potentially fatal infections.
Here are 8 things you didn't know about HIV and AIDS.
#1. There are actually two strains of HIV
HIV originated in monkeys and there are actually two different strains: HIV 1 (the more potent of the two) and HIV 2. It's HIV 1 that commonly causes HIV infection in humans.
#2. HIV isn't just spread by sexual contact
It's not just unprotected sex that transmits HIV: contact with the bodily fluids (blood, semen, breast milk, vaginal fluid etc.) of an infected person can cause infection. Sharing intravenous needles, breastfeeding, or a transfusion with infected blood could also transmit HIV. The virus usually enters the body through an open sore or cut in the mouth, or through the anus or vagina after sexual contact with an infected person. You can't get HIV from kissing, and the risk of infection from having oral sex is very small (although there is still a risk). If you're in any doubt about your sexual partner's history, ask them to get tested and/or use condoms.
#3. HIV tests are actually pretty simple
A new test has recently been devised that tests for the presence of antibodies against the virus. This simple blood test takes around 10 minutes and you can have it done as soon as you think you have been infected.
#4. You can't get HIV by ingesting the blood of an infected person
The HIV virus is incredibly fragile and cannot survive outside the host. So if an HIV-positive person cooks you a delicious dinner or if you somehow ingest their blood, it is highly unlikely that you'll contract HIV. The virus needs to enter your blood stream in order for infection to occur, and it can't withstand extreme heat, so eating food prepared by somebody with HIV (even if they have cut their finger etc. whilst preparing food) is unlikely to put you at risk.
#5. A person with HIV can still have sex
Many people who contract HIV think they will never be able to have sex again. They can, but it is essential to use protection - condoms are recommended. You can still have oral sex too, but you should avoid oral sex if you have any open sores, cuts or lesions in your mouth, and using a dental dam is a good idea. HIV-positive people should always make their partner aware of their status, so they can take extra precautions.
#6. HIV is a manageable condition
HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was. It is a manageable condition which requires medication, monitoring and lifestyle changes. However, the World Health Organisation believes that poverty can speed the disease's progression, as poor people are usually less likely to be able to afford medical care.
#7. It's possible for an HIV positive person to have healthy children
With advances in medicine it is now possible for HIV positive people to have healthy, uninfected children. Mothers will need to take appropriate medication and medical advice during their pregnancy which helps prevent the virus from crossing over into the unborn baby.
#8. Anyone can get HIV
The stigma attached to the condition used to mean that it was first thought of as a disease which only affected gay men - and many people still believe it's a 'poor man's condition'. This is simply not true though - anyone can get HIV. That is why it's so important to practice safe sex at all times and be aware of your partner's sexual history, whether you're in a relationship or having casual sex.