Q&A on HIV/AIDS

What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus which attacks and weakens a human’s immune system. Unlike other known viruses, your body cannot fight off HIV. This is because HIV gradually desimates the immune system such that it can no longer fight even the most basic diseases. There have been many misconceptions about what HIV is. There have been at least as many concerning how it is transmitted. Below you will find answers to some questions you may have, as well as some links to take you to further information.

What’s the Difference Between HIV and AIDS?

A person with HIV will, barring any unforeseen circumstances, eventually get AIDS, because AIDS is an extremely advanced case of HIV. Basically, a person can live for years with HIV and not even know they have it. Then, when the case is identified as HIV, that person can live for years more through a combination of proper nutrition, proper medication and treatments. A person who develops AIDS, however, has had their immune system weakened to such a degree by HIV that they are at risk of severe infections that can become life-threatening. These sever infections can be caused by unrelated and usually non-life-threatening viruses such as the common cold that a healthy HIV/AIDS free individual would be able to fight off.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted through a few different routes. The most common of these is through unprotected sex with an infected person. Also, the sharing of needles or in some other way transferring blood from an infected person to an uninfected person. Another route is mother to fetus or infant. This can occur during the pregnancy or while breastfeeding. 

Can I Get Infected if my Partner Doesn’t Have AIDS?

No. HIV is not something which will occur spontaneously. As it cannot be transmitted through the air, if you are sure your partner does not have HIV/AIDS, you will not get the disease, even during unprotected sex. However, be certain your partner has been tested. If he or she has not, offer to get tested too. This can alleviate some of the tension the conversation can bring up.

Can I Get AIDS by Getting a Tattoo or Piercing?

Yes, it is possible, though extremely unlikely. Because tattoo and piercing parlors are mandated to follow sterilization procedures for their instruments, the risk of blood from one customer coming in contact with your own. Also, HIV can only live a few hours outside the body, further reducing any risk.

Does Donating Blood Put Me at an Increased Risk?

This question is a remnant of a time before the world understood and took proper precautions against HIV/AIDS. While at one time this was an issue, it is no longer. Doctors and nurses are extremely diligent in their preventative procedures, ensuring the most sterile, safest environments in which to donate blood or receive a blood transfusion. Though infections have occurred in the past, the likelihood of them happening through a transfusion or donation now is very slim. 

Can I Transmit AIDS to my Baby During Pregnancy?

Yes, however, if the mother knows she has HIV/AIDS and is pregnant, there are treatments available to her that mothers did not have years ago. Having HIV/AIDS used to mean almost definitely transmitting the disease to the fetus, but there are drugs available today that greatly reduce the risk of transmission from mother to baby. Of course, a new mother with HIV should never breastfeed. If a mother gets her infant tested and follows the advice of the doctor, there is a good chance the baby will be fine.

How Can I Tell if I Have Should be Tested?

If you have had unprotected sex with someone whose sexual history you are unsure of, who uses drugs, or who you know has HIV, you should get tested. Also, if you have come in contact with blood or other bodily fluids of someone you do not know the HIV condition of, you should get tested. Finally, if you have been sharing needles with someone, you should get tested. Basically, if there is any doubt in your mind that you do not have HIV, get tested. Insurances cover it, and it is never a waste of time. If you have any questions or concerns, consult a physician.

How Long Can People Live with AIDS?

There is no concrete answer to this question, because there are many factors which ultimately determine how long a person can live with AIDS. Age and overall health are two important factors, but others exist, including how fast the virus spreads through the body (which can vary sometimes for unknown reasons) and how early the disease was caught. While treatments exist that have extended life spans for people with AIDS, these treatments are not cures, and they work to varying degrees from patient to patient. Without treatment, the patient can expect to survive for only a few years, but with treatment, studies have shown some people living more than a decade. 

How is the HIV Test Performed?

The test can be administered either through taking a blood sample or, in some countries, through an oral test. The blood is then either tested there in the doctor’s office or sent out to a lab. The test is completely confidential. Even the person who tells you the results (provided it is over the phone) will not know your name. Your doctor can only be told the results with your permission. 

I’ve Heard of a Rapid Test? What is That?

A rapid test is the type which can be administered in the doctor’s office. Instead of having to return to the office or calling, is usually ready within about thirty minutes. This makes it preferable to a blood test. It is, though, an antibodies test, which means it will be most accurate after three months. If you feel you cannot wait three months, get a blood test.

If I have HIV/AIDS, is there Support Out There for Me?

Yes. There are faith-based and secular support groups out there for HIV/AIDS patients. These groups help with questions and concerns of any type, from the emotional to the physical. They remind the patient that he is not alone and provide him with support, information, and resources he may not have known about without the help of the group. Because of the ever-evolving status of HIV/AIDS research, it is advisable that someone with HIV/AIDS join a group, as that group is often up to date on all happenings within the community.

How Can I Talk to my Kids about HIV/AIDS?

Often, parents are surprised by how much their children already know about a given topic. Especially in the internet age where informative resources are limitless, when all a child needs to do is Google HIV after hearing about it on television. Therefore, it is a good idea to find a door through which to enter the conversation, like a television show or school project. As starting the conversation is usually the biggest hurdle, this will help get the ball rolling and lead to deeper conversation. Remember the importance of this talk, and make sure all your information is correct. Children often don’t know the social boundaries and stigmas associated with certain topics, and so they may ask a question you thought would have been too embarrassing for them to ask, so be prepared for any question.

How do I Live Well with HIV/AIDS?

Living well with HIV/AIDS is a lot like living well with any disease. It is a matter of diligence on the part of the patient and those around him. For instance, making sure the area in which he lives is sanitary and disinfected does a great deal to help avoid diseases which are now a greater threat to his well being than they would be a healthy person. Furthermore, a healthy diet, which bolsters the immune system, will do a great deal to offset the effects of HIV/AIDS. Of course, the most effective treatment, other than prevention, is an aggressive drug regimen. Your doctor will be up to date on issues of drug resistance and new types of treatments.

What Type of Research is Being Done to Prevent AIDS in the Future?

Research is being done 24/7 to treat and prevent AIDS, and it seems that every year some new treatment is showing promise for the future. There is a vast community monitoring AIDS research and sharing it on the internet. An emerging field of study within AIDS research is to study how the disease effects varying ethnic groups, and even men and women, differently. From studying frog secretions which may help prevent AIDS to rainforest plants which might further treat and manage the condition, there are entire organizations dedicated to fundraising for and fighting against AIDS.

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