What is HIV?
Preventing HIV in Australia
HIV remains a major public health issue as it has claimed over 33 million lives globally, and there an estimated 38 million people living with HIV as at the end of 2019. HIV infection in humans came from a type of chimpanzee in Central Africa. The virus in the animals was called Simian Immunodeficiency Virus and was likely passed on to humans when such animals were hunted for food. Studies show that humans might have contracted HIV as far back as the late 1800s.
HIV means Human Immunodeficiency Virus. According to WHO, it is a virus that attacks humans’ immune system. In turn, it then weakens human’s defence against many infections and various cancer types. Now, when the virus impairs and destroys the immune cells function, infected individuals find themselves immunodeficient in time. Note that this immune function gets measured by humans’ CD4 cell count.
Since the virus weakens the body’s immune system, it results in an increased vulnerability to other infections, diseases and cancers. Since the human body cannot get rid of HIV, and no care is yet to be discovered, once contracted, the virus remains for a lifetime.
A progression of HIV in a person eventually leads to the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and it is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. It usually takes many years to emerge in a person if the HIV infection is not treated. AIDS is characterised by the emergence of specific cancers, opportunistic infections and severe long term clinical manifestations. Without treatment, people with AIDS tend to survive just about three years.
Symptoms of HIV
The symptoms associated with HIV varies based on the level or stage of the infection. In the early weeks, the individual might not experience any symptoms or might experience an influenza-like sickness characterised by fever, sore throat or rash. The progression of the infection would bring about other symptoms like weight loss, cough, swollen lymph nodes and diarrhea. This could further escalate into more severe illnesses like tuberculosis, cancers and cryptococcal meningitis.
Prevention of HIV
Transmission of HIV majorly occurs through the transfer of bodily fluids like blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. Thus, the transmission could very much occur during pregnancy, delivery, sexual intercourse, use of injections and exposure to infected blood.
As such, to prevent infection HIV infection, it is imperative to steer clear of risk behaviours such as having unprotected vaginal or anal sex; sharing of objects like syringes, needles, and various other injecting equipment; receiving unsafe injections, tissue transplantation, blood transfusion, and other medical treatment that involve piercing.
To reduce the risk of infection, you should make use of a condom when engaging in sex. Similarly, it might be helpful to undergo a voluntary medical male circumcision as this has been shown to reduce the risk of heterosexually acquires HIV infection in men by approximately 50%. Furthermore, antiretroviral drugs could also be used for prevention of transmission, especially in cases where a spouse is HIV-positive as well as to prevent mother-to-child transmission.