What is HIV?
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that can lead to AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. HIV spreads through the body fluids, attacking specific cells in the immune system (CD4 cells/T cells). Eventually, so many of these cells are destroyed that the body can't fight other viruses or disease. The human body is not capable of riding itself of HIV, and although scientific advances are being made, a cure is yet to be found. Once you contract HIV, you have it for life, but there are ways to treat symptoms and prevent transmission.
History of HIV
In the 1990s HIV and AIDS began to spread more rapidly, drawing worldwide attention. Before anti-retroviral therapy (ART), a treatment for HIV that was introduced in the mid '90s, individuals with HIV would progress to AIDS within a few years. With the introduction of ART, many infected individuals, who seek early treatment now have a more normal life expectancy. At the end of 2010, about 1.1 million people, living in the US had HIV, and of that, about 16 percent didn't know it. Despite educational strategies and prevention methods, more than 56,000 people in the United States contract HIV every year.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV can be transmitted through any kind of sexual contact. Using barrier methods can help prevent the contraction of HIV, but they are not full proof. The risk is lower if the partner with HIV is taking anti-retroviral therapy (ART) consistently and correctly. The HIV-negative partner should also take preventative measures, such as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).
Remember, a person may not be aware that they have been infected with HIV, or may choose not to share that information. Therefore, you must take necessary measures to protect yourself.
There are many ways in which an individual can prevent the transmission or contraction of HIV. Safe sex is one of the best preventative measures you can take. Using condoms and limiting your number of sexual partners are important to maintaining sexual health. Newer biomedical options may also be available for HIV prevention.
Sex is not the only way in which HIV is transmitted. Sharing needles is one of the main ways HIV is known to be transmitted. By not doing so, you protect yourself from a number of unknown repercussions.
It is important that you get tested regularly, as you HIV status expires every time you engage in risky sexual behavior. Contracting any STD can increase your risk of getting HIV, so testing and treatment for all STDs is vital for your health. Encourage your partner (and others) to get tested at least once a year so they are sure about their HIV status.
Why Should I Get Tested?
If you are living with HIV, it is important that you not only seek consistent treatment, but prevent infecting another individual. Using ART can greatly reduce your chance of transmitting HIV to a partner, because it helps to reduce the viral load in your body. Use condoms when engaging in any type of sexual activity, and engage in less risky sexual behaviors.
Have a conversation with your partner before engaging in sexual activity, so both of you can take preventative measures. If you think your partner has possible exposure to HIV, discuss the available means of preventative medication. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can be taken daily by HIV-negative individuals to help reduce the chance of contracting the virus.
If you engage in sexual activity with a partner, be sure to inform him or her about preventative measures that can be taken during and after sex. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) should be taken within three days of exposure, and be taken daily for the next four weeks.