HIV in the 21st Century

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HIV in 2017

What Is HIV?

It is an acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.  This virus can make you sick by weakening your immune system, your body’s built-in defence against disease and illness.  That’s why HIV is a health issue.  There is no cure if the virus gets into your body and begins to multiply (when this happens it is called seroconversion and HIV is able to be detected in the body).  But, there are ways to prevent HIV from getting into your body.

Anyone can be infected with HIV. You can have HIV without knowing it. You may not look or feel sick for years, but you can still pass the virus on to other people.

Without HIV treatment, your immune system can become too weak to fight off serious illnesses. HIV can also damage other parts of your body. Without treatment, you can eventually become sick with life-threatening infections. This is the most serious stage of HIV infection, called AIDS (or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

There is no vaccine to prevent HIV but there are things you can do to avoid passing or getting HIV. Read on to learn more!

There Is No Cure for HIV… But There Is Treatment for the rest of one’s life

There is no cure for HIV, but with proper treatment and care, most people with HIV can avoid progressing to an AIDS diagnosis, stay healthy, and live a long life. They will have to take medication daily for the rest of their lives.

HIV drugs taken every day do not cure HIV but  can keep it under control. When used correctly and consistently, HIV medications can also dramatically lower the risk of passing HIV to another person.

For more on HIV treatment, see CATIE’s Treatment section.

Who Can Get HIV?

Anyone can get HIV, no matter…

  • sex or gender
  • ethnic origin, or race
  • age
  • who are your sexual partners: male, female, or both

It matters not who you are but it really does matter what you do and how you do it.

How Does HIV Get Passed from One Person to Another?

Only 5 body fluids can contain enough HIV to pass the virus to someone else:

  1. blood
  1. semen (including “pre-cum” or “pre-ejaculate” from the male penis)
  1. rectal fluid (mucous membranes are moist. Examples: nose, mouth, eyes, and ‘bum’ or rectum, and foreskin of the penis)
  1. vaginal fluid
  1. breast milk

HIV can only get passed when one of these fluids from a person living with HIV gets into the bloodstream of another person. The 2 main ways that HIV can get passed are through:

  1. sex
  1. sharing needles or other equipment used to inject substances

HIV can be passed during sex through:

  • the external urethral orifice  (opening at the end of the penis)
  • the wet mucosal linings of the body (vagina, rectum, or foreskin)
  • any broken skin

HIV cannot pass through healthy, unbroken skin.

HIV can be passed by sharing equipment used for injecting substances, and even through sharing needles used for insulin, steroids, or other health procedures.  Other ways HIV can transmit is:

  • in ink or needle used to get a tattoo
  • through needles or jewelry to get a body piercing
  • by sharing acupuncture needles
  • to a fetus or baby during pregnancy, during birth or breastfeeding (called “mother-to-child” transmission or ‘MTC’)  NOTE: mother-to-child transmission is not common in developed countries with rigorous health care for pregnant women.

HIV cannot be passed by:

  • talking with, shaking hands with, working with, or eating with someone who is living with HIV
  • hugging or kissing someone who is living with HIV
  • being coughed or sneezed upon by someone who is living with HIV
  • swimming pools or hot tubs being used by or having been used by someone who is living with HIV
  • toilet seats or water fountains used by someone who is living with HIV
  • bed sheets or towels used by someone who is living with HIV
  • forks, spoons, cups, or other eating utensils used by someone who is living with HIV
  • insects or animals-Remember the H in HIV stands for Human.  Only Humans can get the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

When outside of the body, as in a drop of blood, HIV does not survive well.  Other serious viruses, like Hepatitis C, do live long periods outside of the body, unlike HIV, and may be contagious in a drop of blood. Always practice Universal Precautions