December 04, 2018
World AIDS Day is a global initiative to raise awareness, fight prejudice, and improve education about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. World AIDS Day is important because it reminds us that HIV has not gone away – every 9.5 minutes someone in the U.S. is infected (CDC).
HIV infection is a contagious disease and can be transmitted from person to person. It is most commonly transmitted by having sex without a condom or by sharing needles infected with the virus. HIV is found in all the body fluids including saliva, nervous system tissue, spinal fluid, blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal and anal secretions, tears and breast milk. Only blood, semen, and breast milk have been shown to transmit infection to others. Transmission via saliva of an infected person is rare. HIV is a very fragile virus and so does not live long outside the body.
What does not cause spread of HIV?
HIV infection is not spread by:
- casual touching
- light kissing
- contact with unbroken, healthy skin
- being sneezed upon by an infected person
- sharing items of daily use like towels or cutlery and baths, toilets and swimming pools
- via mosquito or animal bites
- by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
There are three stages of HIV infection.
- Stage 1 after initial infection can feel like flu, but not everyone will experience this.
- Stage 2 may last for 10 years or so, with no more apparent symptoms.
- Stage 3 is when the immune system has been so badly damaged that it can no longer fight off serious infections and diseases.
The earlier you have HIV diagnosed and start treatment, the better your likely long-term health. Because many people do not have any symptoms for stages 1 and 2, HIV often gets transmitted from people who simply don’t know they are infected.
Living with HIV
- At the end of 2014, the most recent year for which such data are available, an estimated 1,107,700 adults and adolescents were living with HIV in the United States.
- An estimated 166,000 (15%) had not been diagnosed.
- Young people were the most likely to be unaware of their infection. Among people aged 13-24, an estimated 51% (31,300) of those living with HIV didn’t know.
In the early 1980s when the AIDS epidemic began, people living with HIV were not likely to live more than a few years. However, since 1996, the use of antiretroviral therapy (ART) has dramatically improved the quality of life for people with HIV.
ART prevents the HIV virus from multiplying inside a person, helps the body’s immune cells live longer, lowers a person’s risk of developing a non-HIV-related illness, and reduces the chances of transmitting HIV to others.
There are a number of ways you can protect yourself from HIV, including:
- Using a condom every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex.
- Avoid sharing needles, syringes and other injecting equipment with anyone if you take drugs.
- Taking HIV treatment if you are a new or expectant mother living with HIV, as this can dramatically reduce the risk of passing HIV to your baby during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
- Asking your healthcare professional if the blood product you are receiving (blood transfusion, organ or tissue transplant) has been tested for HIV.
- Taking precautions if you are a healthcare worker, such as wearing protection (like gloves and goggles), washing hands after contact with blood and other bodily fluids, and safely disposing of sharp equipment.
You should get tested if you’ve:
- Had sex without a condom with new or unknown partners.
- Shared needles when injecting drugs.
- Put yourself at risk of HIV in any other way or are worried you might have.
(For testing sites visit HIV.gov)
If you understand how HIV is transmitted, how it can be prevented, and the reality of living with HIV today – you can use this knowledge to take care of your own health and the health of others, and ensure you treat everyone living with HIV fairly, and with respect and understanding (HIV.gov).