HIV is not a death sentence, with treatment it is a chronic condition.
What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus attacks the body’s ability to handle disease and causes AIDS. This is a slow process, and people living with HIV may not have symptoms for over a decade. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. A person has AIDS only in the final stages of HIV, after the immune system becomes unable to defend itself against foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. AIDS can lead to death if it is not treated.
How is HIV Transmitted
HIV infection can occur through anal, vaginal or oral sex if you don’t use a condom. Unprotected (condom-less) oral sex is not as risky as vaginal and anal, but still can spread HIV, especially when there are small wounds, cuts or blood in the mouth of genitals.
– Sharing needles, syringes or drug works: Sharing any of the equipment to inject drugs can spread HIV.
– Pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. HIV treatment during pregnancy and breastfeeding reduces chances of HIV transmission to almost zero. Without treatment, an HIV positive woman might transmit HIV to her child during pregnancy or childbirth about 25% of the time. Babies might also become positive through breastfeeding.
– The HIV virus is present in blood, vaginal fluids, semen and breastmilk, so HIV is not transmitted via kissing, hugging, toilet seats, sharing drinking glasses or toothbrushes.
How to Prevent the Spread of HIV?
Use condoms: If you are sexually active, use condoms during vaginal and anal intercourse. Condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV transmission.
Use clean needles: If you inject drugs, use new, sterile needles. If you don’t know where you can get them, contact us and we will support you in this.
Discuss sexual histories: Knowing the HIV status of your partner or partners will enable you to take steps to prevent transmission, like using condoms.
Get tested for other STIs: having a sexually-transmitted infection (STI)—such as Chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis—can increase your risk of becoming HIV positive.
How is HIV Treated?
HIV is treated using a combination of medicines to fight HIV infection. This is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART isn’t a cure, but it can control the virus so that you can live a long, healthy life. ART involves taking a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV regimen) every day, exactly as prescribed. These HIV medicines prevent HIV from multiplying (making copies of itself), which reduces the amount of HIV in your body. Having close to no HIV in your body gives your immune system a chance to recover and fight off infections. When you have reached this stage, you have an undetectable viral load.
ART is recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of how long they’ve had the virus or how healthy they are. If left untreated, HIV will attack the immune system and eventually progress to AIDS. If treated, HIV is not a mortal disease anymore and people can enjoy healthy and long life.
HIV and pregnancy
When you are living with HIV, you can give birth to a healthy baby. When you are diagnosed while pregnant, you should start treatment as soon as possible. When you are already on treatment, you should continue your treatment regularly. Placenta protects your unborn child from getting HIV. Giving birth and breastfeeding potentially pose a risk for vertical transmission (from mother to child). However, if the virus is suppressed and undetectable, the chances are reduced greatly.
If your viral load is undetectable, you can give birth vaginally or naturally. When, at the time of conceiving, your viral load is not undetectable (yet), you will probably be advised a caesarian cut. After delivery, your infant will receive PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) for 4 weeks to ensure that HIV will not be transmitted, and will be tested for HIV. Breastfeeding is recommended when your viral load is undetectable and when you are taking your treatment every day; in other cases, formula feed is recommended. It is important that each step in the process is thoroughly discussed with your doctor.
Treatment as Prevention
Being on treatment is not only beneficial for your own health. It also greatly reduces the chance that the virus is transmitted to another individual. This is another strong reason to start treatment immediately after diagnosis. When you have an undetectable viral load, you can protect your sexual partners from acquiring HIV in this way, so HIV treatment is a powerful prevention tool.