What is HIV?

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Such fear from three letters, yet a horrifying reality many generations have dealt with knowingly and unknowingly. To start, what is HIV exactly? HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. In layman’s terms, this virus attacks the body’s immune system slowly over time which makes it more difficult for the body to fight off infections and diseases.

How does one get HIV?

A person who has contracted this disease has become HIV positive. HIV can be acquired in several different ways through blood, semen, pre-seminal fluids, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, the breast milk of a HIV positive host, as well as through shared needles. However, HIV is most commonly transmitted with vaginal or anal sexual intercourse, as well as shared needles amongst recreational drug users. Unless there are open sores or bleeding in the mouth, HIV is not transmitted through saliva or kissing.

Where did HIV come from?

Scientists have deduced that a species of chimpanzee in West Africa to be the original host of SIV, or simian immunodeficiency virus. They believe that it was transmitted to the human population when they were hunted for meat, thus exposing the consumer to infected blood. Over the course of several decades, the virus spread throughout Africa then became a worldwide epidemic. The earliest known case of HIV diagnosed was in 1959 with an unknown contraction of the disease.

What are the symptoms of HIV?

Without any treatment, HIV begins to overwhelm the immune system in stages. There are three stages of HIV infection: acute HIV infection, clinical latency and finally AIDS, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

  • Acute HIV infection – Occurs within two or four weeks after exposure. Many of those infected will experience symptoms similar to those of the flu: mild to high fevers, swollen glands, sore throat, rashes, muscle and joint pain, and headaches. These symptoms are part of the body’s natural response to foreign bodies as it begins to fight back. Starting treatment at this stage has a higher probability of success.
  • Clinical Latency – This stage is when the infected person does not have any symptoms active, or they are very few and mild. One is still HIV positive, but with treatment, it is highly possible to stay in this stage for years without progression to AIDS.
  • AIDS – At this point, the body and immune system have irreparable damage. Without treatment, opportunistic illnesses such as cancer, pneumonia, and others will be fatal as the body’s immune system no longer functions to fight back. The typical life expectancy for those who have AIDS and no treatment is three years.

Who is at risk of contracting HIV?

Specific populations are more susceptible than others, and there are factors to consider, such as sexual partners, lifestyle behaviors, and location. Unprotected sexual intercourse is the primary contributing factor, especially anal sex. Drug users who share needles are also mainly at risk.

How do you prevent contracting HIV?

When performing sexual intercourse, condoms are the most effective at protecting both partners from HIV and other types of sexually transmitted infections, or STI. Choosing a healthier lifestyle, honesty and no sharing of needles will also decrease the chances of contracting HIV.

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