HIV awareness: Learning the basics

The human immunodeficiency virus has become one of the most serious threats to public health and human rights. It causes damage to the cells of a person’s immune system, Making it incapable of fighting common infections.

Spreading awareness can help prevent and control the increase of HIV and AIDS-related cases worldwide. Here are the basic things you need to know to raise HIV awareness.

Stages of HIV

There are three stages of HIV. You can stop or slow down the progress of these stages with treatment.

Stage 1: Acute HIV infection

An infected person has a high amount of HIV in their blood, making them very contagious. Most people in this stage experience flu-like symptoms.

Stage 2: Chronic HIV infection

Also called asymptomatic HIV infection, this stage means that the virus is still active in the body. Although most people in this stage have no symptoms, they can still spread HIV. Without treatment, this stage may last for many years, eventually progressing into AIDS.

Stage 3: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome

AIDS is the most severe stage of HIV infection. The viral load is so high that people in this stage can quickly and easily spread the virus to others. 

At this stage, the immune system is severely damaged. People with stage 3 HIV are very prone to opportunistic infections and illnesses, making survival less likely.

How is HIV spread?

The most common ways HIV is spread are through sex and needle-sharing. Here are some interesting facts about HIV transmission:

  • The riskiest method of getting or transmitting the virus is through unprotected anal sex
  • Vaginal fluid can carry HIV
  • Pregnant women with HIV can pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding.
  • The risk of HIV transmission between mother and child can be lowered through HIV medicine.
  • HIV can be spread through oral sex with the presence of oral ulcers, genital sores, or bleeding gums.
  • HIV transmission in a healthcare setting is possible but rare.

HIV testing and diagnosis

There are three ways to test for HIV and they are typically performed on blood, urine, or oral fluid.

Antibody tests

This type of test detects antibodies to HIV. Antibody tests can detect the virus sooner if the test is done on blood from a vein, rather than from a finger prick.

Antigen/antibody test

This type of test is more common in the US. It detects both HIV antibodies and antigens and is often performed in blood drawn from a vein. 

Nucleic acid test (NAT)

This type of test looks for the actual virus in a blood sample drawn from a vein. The sample is sent to the lab where the HIV viral load is measured.

HIV treatment

To treat HIV, healthcare providers would prescribe antiretroviral medication. These medicines aim to prevent the virus from replication and reproducing in the body. This way, the immune system would have time to repair damages and prevent more from occurring.

The challenge with HIV is that the virus can develop resistance to medicines easily. This is why it’s important to take a combination of different medications to make the treatment effective.

HIV treatment is effective when it’s able to lower the viral load of a person infected with the virus. It should reach levels low enough to be undetectable by HIV tests. With proper treatment, people with HIV can live long and healthy lives.

HIV prevention

There are many ways you can avoid contracting HIV or prevent it from spreading to others, including:

  • Taking effective treatment. As the viral load goes lower, the risk of spreading HIV also decreases.
  • Using condoms, whether performing anal or vaginal intercourse.
  • Use lubricants as they can help prevent vaginal or anal tears by providing enough moisture to prevent dryness and friction.
  • Never share needles, syringes, and other injecting equipment.
  • Take HIV prevention medicine, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP
  • Pregnant women should request HIV screening. If detected earlier, treatment can be started earlier, lowering the risk of transmitting the virus to the baby.

Learning more to raise your awareness

HIV awareness involves making wiser choices about sexual health and sexual well-being, and practicing safer sexual activities. There are many ways to prevent HIV and reduce the risk of getting it.

If you feel you’re at a higher risk of contracting the virus, speak with your local sexual health clinic or urgent care provider for further advice and recommendations.

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Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered, construed or interpreted as legal or professional advice, guidance or opinion.

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