December 1st is World AIDS Day, a day to raise awareness and education about HIV and AIDS and honor those who have died from AIDS. It is common to wear red or a red ribbon to support World AIDS Day and it is a great opportunity to review what you need to know about AIDS.
What is AIDS?
AIDS is an STI and stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome and is caused by the virus HIV. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV attacks the white blood cells in the body which can make it hard for a person’s body to fight off infections. HIV leads to AIDS and AIDs can eventually cause death. About 38 million people are currently living with HIV in the world and anyone can have HIV.
How do you get HIV?
HIV is spread through blood, semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid (pre-cum), vaginal fluid and breast milk. HIV is not spread through saliva, sweat, or any other fluids in the body. Any time someone comes in contact with blood, semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid (pre-cum), vaginal fluid and breast milk from another person, they could be at risk of HIV. This means it is important for someone to protect themselves during sex and it is also important to make sure when using needles like for a tattoo, piercing, or any type of injection that someone is using a clean needle and not sharing needles with someone else.
How do you know if you have HIV?
Someone can have HIV for a long time without showing any symptoms. If someone has symptoms, they feel sick with things like a headache, fever, fatigue, or body aches. Similar to a cold or flu. They may also have rapid weight loss. The only way to know for sure if someone has HIV is to get tested. HIV testing can be done with a blood test, a prick of the finger, and sometimes a cheek swab. You can find a clinic near you to get tested for HIV or see if you are eligible to order an at-home HIV test. Just remember that it can take up to 3 months after being exposed for HIV to show up on a test.
Is HIV curable?
No, HIV is not curable. However there are medications that allow someone with HIV to live a long, healthy life. Someone who has HIV and is using their medications correctly is not able to transmit HIV to someone else. It is important for someone with HIV to follow the direction of the doctor.
How can I protect myself from getting HIV?
Getting tested and having your partners get tested for HIV is an important way to protect yourself. You can find a clinic near you to get tested. Condoms also protect against HIV, find free condoms! Someone who is at high risk of getting HIV can talk to their doctor about a predication called PrEP or pre-exposure prophylaxis which is taken every day and lowers the chances that someone would get HIV if they were exposed. There is also a medication called PEP or post exposure prophylaxis which is taken after someone may have been exposed to HIV to prevent them from getting it.
This World AIDS Day, make a plan to get tested for HIV. You can also celebrate by wearing red, learning the basics, and spreading the word!