1 December is World AIDS Day. Unfortunately, 36.7 million people are living with HIV worldwide (as of the end of 2016), and 7.1 million of those are in South Africa. In 2016, there were 270,000 new infections in South Africa, while 110,000 South Africans died from AIDS-related illnesses.
And that’s why Worlds AIDS Day ,exists: it urges communities to come together each year to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for those living with HIV and to remember those who have sadly passed away. For 2017, the global theme is ‘The Right to Health – I have the right to know, prevention is my responsibility’. This focuses on the stance that everyone should have the right and access to the best healthcare without stigma or discrimination. No one should be left behind.
But, what exactly is HIV/AIDS – and how is it transmitted? While World AIDS Day focuses on the importance of informing people and keeping them educated about the disease, we’ve put together seven facts about HIV.
#1 HIV stands for ‘human immunodeficiency virus’ which infects the immune system
This leads to progressive deterioration of the immune system and means that the body becomes unable to fight off some infections and other diseases that people with healthy immune systems can successfully battle against.
HIV symptoms vary depending on the stage of the infection. Many people are unaware that they even have HIV until later stages when symptoms are more prominent. Within the first few weeks, however, people may experience flu-like symptoms, such as a headache, temperature, sore throat or rash.
As the immune system becomes weakened by the infection, other signs and symptoms can develop. These include weight loss, coughing, diarrhoea and swollen lymph nodes. Without treatment, severe illnesses can also develop, such as cryptococcal meningitis, tuberculosis and cancers such as lymphomas. HIV is often diagnosed via rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) that detect the absence or presence of HIV antibodies.
#2 AIDS refers to the most advanced stages of the HIV infection
AIDS stands for ‘acquired immune deficiency syndrome’ and is caused when one of more than 20 infections or related cancers arise in the very final stage of HIV infection. AIDS is a set of symptoms rather than a virus and is also referred to as advanced HIV infection, or late-stage HIV.
The speed at which HIV and AIDS develops depends entirely on the individual. It can take anywhere from 2 to 15 years for the immune system to become so severely damaged that it’s unable to defend itself. However, the rise in successful treatment for HIV means that fewer people are now developing AIDS.
#3 HIV can be transmitted in more ways than one
There is no one sure way that HIV can be transmitted. It can be passed on through the following:
• Blood transfusions containing contaminated blood
• Unprotected sexual intercourse, or oral sex, with an infected person
• Sharing contaminated injecting equipment and solutions, such as syringes, needles and tattooing equipment
• Using contaminated surgical tools and other sharp equipment
• The transmission between a mother and her baby throughout pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding
It is a myth that HIV can be passed on through contact such as hugging, shaking hands or kissing, or via sweat, saliva or urine.
#4 HIV is the greatest risk factor for developing active TB disease
HIV infection speeds up the progression from latent to active tuberculosis disease. In fact, the risk of developing TB is between 26 and 31 times greater in those with HIV than those without the infection.
It’s important to get screened for TB if you have a cough that is not going away, or if you know someone who has TB. It tends to happen earlier in HIV’s progressions than other infections. However, TB is a completely curable disease.
#5 HIV transmission can be prevented
There are several ways to prevent HIV transmission. These include:
• Using condoms to protect both yourself and your partner against the risk of sexually transmitted diseases
• Getting tested and treated for sexually transmitted infections
• Using sterile needles and syringes and never sharing equipment
• Ensuring that any blood or blood products are tested for HIV
• If you are HIV positive, start antiretroviral therapy (ART) straight away for your own health, as well as to greatly reduce the risk of transmission to your partner or to your unborn baby if you are pregnant.
#6 Being diagnosed with HIV/AIDs is not a death sentence
There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, however, people can live perfectly long and healthy lives with the correct treatment and support thanks to recent advances in access to antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Getting tested regularly if you are concerned that you may be exposed to the virus is recommended as early diagnosis of HIV is important as the earlier the diagnosis, the sooner the treatment can start, resulting in better long-term health.
#7 South Africa has come a long way in the fight against HIV and AIDS
South Africa has helped in the fight against HIV/AIDS by implementing new research and vaccines, providing female and male condoms at all health facilities, encouraging people to check their HIV status regularly, having national activists helping in the battle to eradicate AIDS , and hosting events for World AIDS Day, such as Sports Fridays and Casual Fridays.
The South African government have also introduced a new roadmap: The National Strategic Plan. This has been put in place to reach a future where HIV, TB and STIs are no longer a public health challenge by 2022.
What to do if you suspect you might have AIDS/HIV
It’s important to remember that being HIV positive is not a death sentence. However, if you suspect, or worry that you might have contracted the disease, then it’s vital that you see your doctor and have a blood test as soon as possible. The earlier the diagnosis, the sooner you can begin treatment.
Topmed’s HIV/AIDS Programme is managed by our team of dedicated Professional Nurses and is designed to address the needs of patients and families affected by HIV and AIDS. Click here to find out more about the benefits we offer.
If you have concerns or questions about HIV or AIDS our team of trained nurses are on hand to help. Please feel free to get in touch today.
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