World AIDS Day

image source: aids.gov

Today (December 1) is World AIDS Day. We pay tribute to all people living with HIV/AIDS, honor those who have died from HIV/AIDS, and recognize the proactive individuals who have gotten tested for HIV. Most importantly, World AIDS Day is a day for everyone to unite in the fight against HIV.

Within the past 30 years, the itsy bitsy HIV virus (80 billionths of a Meter in diameter, hiv-info.org) has taken the lives of more than 30 million people and TWICE as many are HIV POSITIVE (LA Times). In 2010, there were 2.7 million NEW HIV infections.

When we think of people who are HIV positive, we usually think of little  kids from 3rd world countries that we see in those make-you-wanna-cry commercials. Rarely do we imagine people living here in the U-S-of-A. About 1.2 million people in the United States are HIV positive. Approximately 50,000 Americans are infected with HIV each year.

Scientists and doctors are working day and night to find something that will just make HIV go away FOREVER. Unfortunately, there still is no cure. The next best thing is to PREVENT yourself from becoming infected. And the key to prevention is EDUCATION. So, I now present to you…

HIV 101

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV destroys CD4+ T cells that are very important for fighting diseases. With less CD4+ T cells, an HIV+ person has a weakened immune system and is more susceptible to catching other diseases.

So that’s what’s going on inside, but what about the outside? What do we see or don’t see? The first stage is an acute infection. Symptoms, such as night sweats, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, rash, fatigue, muscle aches, and ulcers in the mouth, can appear as early as 2-4 weeks after infection. But, HIV is a little trickster. Some people may not show symptoms until 3 months later. According to the CDC, “People living with HIV may appear and feel healthy for several years.” The worst part about the first stage is that people are MOST INFECTIOUS during this time. So an HIV-positive person who feels perfectly fine can unintentionally infect another person.

After the initial infection, the virus goes through its undercover phase, known as clinical latency. HIV is less active but it’s still in there breaking down the immune system. This phase can last up to 10 years or even more and many people don’t have any symptoms of HIV. Just like the acute stage, a HIV-positive person in the second stage can look and feel healthy but still infect other people.

image source: farm3

So what about AIDS? AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is the last stage of an HIV infection. This is when the immune system is so badly damaged that the HIV-infected person is susceptible to opportunistic infections, which are illnesses that attack weakened immune systems (actagainstaids.org). An HIV-positive person is diagnosed with HIV when he or she has “less than 200 CD4+ T cells per cubic millimeter of blood, compared with about 1,000 CD4+ T cells for healthy people” (ucsfhealth.org). AIDS is a SYNDROME, because it is a collection of multiple diseases that a person acquires when he or she has a deficient immune system.

If HIV is detected early, medication can be taken to “limit or slow down the destruction of the immune system, improve the health of people living with HIV, and may reduce their ability to transmit HIV” (CDC). The goal is to keep an HIV-positive person’s T cell count from dropping so that he or she won’t develop AIDS.

Alright, now that you’re experts on the science of HIV/AIDS, there are just two more things to tackle: TRANSMISSION & TESTING.

HIV is transmitted from one person to another (actagainstaids.org):

  • By having sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) with a person who has HIV. HIV can be transmitted through blood, pre-seminal fluid, semen, and vaginal fluid. SO PRACTICE ABSTINENCE OR MONOGAMY OR WEAR A CONDOM. 
  • By sharing needles, syringes, or other injection equipment with a person who injects drugs and has HIV. SO DON’T SHARE NEEDLES.
  • Through pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. Women who have HIV can give the disease to their babies before or during birth or through breast-feeding after birth.

More than 1 million people are living with HIV in the United States, but 1 in 5 don’t know they are infected. (CDC). Know your status. DON’T TEST IT. GET TESTED. Rapid HIV Tests definitely live up to its name. They take about 20 minutes and are virtually harmless. “Rapid tests use blood from a vein or from a finger stick, or oral fluid, to look for the presence of antibodies to HIV” (CDC). Since these tests only screen for HIV, a positive rapid HIV test must be confirmed with a blood test before a final diagnosis of infection can be made. Remember, the sooner HIV is detected, the sooner it can be treated and will less likely develop into AIDS. Click here to find out where you can get tested for HIV.

Stressed on what to get your family and friends for Christmas? Well here’s an INSPI(RED) idea that, rest ASSU(RED), you’ll definitely be ADMI(RED) for. Join RED and help achieve an AIDS FREE GENERATION.

Here’s how it works:

American Express, Apple, Bugaboo, Converse, Dell, Emporio Armani, Hallmark, NIKE, Penfolds, Penguin Classics, and Starbucks have also partnered with Red, so you have lots to choose from!

Got Netflix? Check out And the Band Played On. The movie depicts the start of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. It’s an inspiring movie that will change the way you think about HIV/AIDS and give you a better understanding of what the epidemic was like back in the 80’s.
By ALYSSA LLAMAS
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