World AIDS Day is celebrated on 1st December each year and is an opportunity for we people worldwide to unite and recommit ourselves to the fight against HIV and achieve AIDS free generation, show our support for the people living with HIV/AIDS and commemorate solidarity with people who have lost their precious life because of HIV/AIDS. World aids day was first ever global health day, held for the first time in 1988.
Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV/AIDS out of an estimated 36 million people who have the virus globally making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of HIV in the world and certain areas of the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and South East Asia have high prevalence of HIV.
Today, scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV and we understand so much more about the condition. Despite this, 28 new HIV positives were detected in the last five months, totaling the number of HIV cases detected since 1993 in the country today to 460. Of the 460 detected so far, 354 are living with HIV/AIDS in the country, 20 live outside Bhutan and 86 have died.
Still, there are people who don’t know the facts about how to protect themselves and others, and stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with the condition. World aids day is important because it reminds the public and government that HIV has not gone away- there is still a vital need to raise awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.
What are the early symptoms of HIV?
Around a week to ten days after HIV infection takes place, symptoms can occur which is the result of the body reacting to HIV infection clinically referred to as “Seroconversion”. The most common symptoms of recent HIV infection are severe flu-like symptoms, including a sore throat and fever, and a rash on the chest. Other symptoms can include fatigue, nausea and diarrhea. People who experience the above symptoms to do an HIV test if they occur within six weeks of sex without a condom.
The second stage of HIV infection is the “asymptomatic” stage, and there are generally no symptoms, often lasting for as long as ten years. The third stage of HIV infection is the symptomatic stage, where the body’s immune system has become so damaged that it becomes susceptible to a range of “opportunistic” infections that would normally be prevented by the body’s natural defenses. These infections include bacterial diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and blood poisoning, fungal diseases such as oral thrush, and viral diseases.
When should one take an HIV test?
One should get an HIV test if one think she/he have exposed oneself to risk-for example, a sex without a condom with someone whose HIV status is not known or sharing of injecting needles or drug equipment.
If one is a sexually active gay or bisexual man, it is recommended to have an HIV test at least once a year, and more regularly if one have –unprotected anal sex with new or casual partners.
If one has recently had sex without a condom, and one experience early symptoms of HIV, one should get tested as soon as possible.
Even if one don’t have symptoms, one can’t assume one don’t have HIV. It is always advised to get tested for HIV and other STIs.
After a person has been infected with HIV, there is a four week gap-commonly referred to as “window period”-where the virus can’t be detected by a test. After the window period, one can get a reliable test result telling one whether one is HIV+ or HIV-
The mode of HIV transmission
HIV can be transmitted through infected semen, vaginal fluids, rectal secretions, and blood or breast milk. The most common ways HIV is passed on are through sex without a condom, or sharing infected needles, syringes or other injecting drug equipment.
HIV cannot be passed on through casual contact, such as touching, shaking hands or sharing utensils. HIV cannot be passed on through saliva, including spitting or kissing. HIV cannot be passed on through urine or faeces.
How can one protect oneself and others against HIV infection?
Always use a condom when having vaginal or anal sex. You may also want to refrain from giving oral sex if you have cuts, sores or ulcers in your mouth. Avoiding having your partner ejaculate in your mouth also lowers risk although the risk of HIV from oral sex is much lower generally. You should also never share needles, syringes or any other injecting equipment.
HIV and AIDS is not the same thing. When someone is described as living with HIV, they have the HIV virus in their body. A person is considered to have developed AIDS when the immune system is so weak it can no longer fight off a range of diseases with which it would normally cope. An AIDS diagnosis takes place at such a late stage of infection when one or more of the most commonly experienced illness linked to HIV occurs (known as an AIDS-defining illness)
Though there are extremely effective treatments for AIDS which enable people to live a full and active life and live a near normal lifespan, there is still no cure and HIV is a condition you have to live with every day for the rest of your life.
Whilst HIV needn’t be feared the way it was decades ago, it remains a serious, long-term condition with life-limiting consequences. PEP or Post Exposure Prophylaxis is a medical treatment that prevents HIV infection after the virus has entered the body. Highly effective HIV medication reduce the level of HIV in the body (clinically referred to as an “undetectable viral load”) and when this happens, the chance of passing HIV on to a partner are significantly reduced (this doesn’t mean that HIV treatment is a replacement for condoms, but it does give HIV positive people more options for safer sex and reduce overall risk of onward transmission) and will also prevent the HIV infection from damaging the immune system so severely and can stop opportunistic infections (the infections take advantage of the weakened immune system in a way they wouldn’t normally be able to in an otherwise healthy person). Treatment must be taken every day and can cause side-effects and sadly there is still a lot of stigma and discrimination around the condition. So everybody should take all the measures to avoid HIV transmission.