Gobally, December 1st is observed as ‘World AIDS Day’ since 1988. The slogan is “Everybody Counts“, and the theme this year is RIGHT TO HEALTH, that highlights the need for all 36.7 million people living with HIV and those who are vulnerable and affected by the epidemic, to reach the goal of universal health coverage. (WHO)
What causes AIDS?
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the root cause of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome generally known as, AIDS. This virus weakens an individual’s ability to fight infections and cancer. Having HIV does not always mean that you have AIDS and, it is the more advanced stage of the virus infection. To understand how, let’s make this simpler –
HIV attacks & destroys the ‘T-cell’ (a type of blood cell called CD-4, whose main function is to fight disease). When this cell count gets low, an individual is more susceptible to illness. When this cell count drops lower than 200 in an individual – the ability to fight an infection or cancer is completely lost. This is when an individual suffers from AIDS. It can take many years for people with HIV to develop AIDS.
A quick brief on HIV – A person gets HIV when an infected person’s body fluids (blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk) enters his/her bloodstream through linings in the mouth, anus, penis, vagina, or broken skin. Both men & women can get & spread this virus. Healthcare workers are at risk on the job & should take special precautions. A person with HIV can feel “OK” & still give the virus to others.
Common ways people get HIV:
Sharing a needle to take drugs – Share needles to inject drugs or steroids with an infected person. The disease can also be transmitted by dirty needles used to make a tattoo or in body piercing.
Receive a blood transfusion from an infected person.
Having unprotected sex with an infected person – This means vaginal or anal intercourse without a condom or oral sex without a latex barrier with a person infected with HIV.
Are born to a mother with HIV infection. A baby can also get HIV from the breast milk of an infected woman.
You cannot get HIV from:
Touching or hugging someone who has HIV/AIDS.
Public bathrooms or swimming pools.
Sharing cups, utensils, or telephones with someone who has HIV/AIDS.
The only way to know if you have HIV is to take an HIV test. Most tests looks for signs of HIV in your blood. Some people get flu-like symptoms within a month after they have been infected. These symptoms often go away within a week to a month.
A person can have HIV for many years before feeling ill. As the disease progresses, both women & men may experience yeast infections on the tongue (thrush), and women may develop severe vaginal yeast infections or pelvic inflammatory disease. Shingles is often seen early on, often before someone is diagnosed with HIV.
Knowing a little more… Signs that HIV is turning into AIDS include:
Once infected with AIDS a person may be vulnerable to infection, called AIDS-defining illnesses, & often exhibit the following conditions:
Kaposi’s sarcoma, a skin tumor that looks like dark or purple blotches on the skin or in the mouth.
Mental changes & headaches caused by fungal infections or tumors in the brain & spinal cord.
Shortness of breath & difficulty breathing because of infections of the lungs.
The Psychological Outlook: Being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS is life altering not just physically but also emotionally and psychologically.
People with HIV/AIDS are often isolated from their loved ones. They often receive little of the much-needed emotional support.
They carry stressors like chronic physical pain, the fear of infecting others, discrimination, and fear abuse with them every day. But their difficulties don’t just stop there! They go beyond and include changes in their lifestyle to accommodate the illness itself and often also face the loss of independence, uncertainty concerning the timing and nature of treatment & disease progression, uncertainty in their personal & social lives.
Most significantly, many people with HIV are simultaneously coping with grief from already having lost loved ones due to AIDS.
Anger, chronic somatic preoccupation (a fixation on physical symptoms), depression, anxiety, impairments with speech, memory, concentration, frustration and, apathy are often found in people with HIV.
Pre-test & Post-test HIV counselling IS ESSENTIAL.
Speaking to someone is helpful.
With the medications and therapy available today, it is possible to lead a life with minimal interruption in quality of life. There are ways to help people stay healthy and live longer.
Spread the awareness with the right information on HIV/AIDS and help someone out there. Stay healthy and safe.