Why does everyone need to know about HIV and AIDS?
Over the past few years a new family of viruses, HIV, has spread rapidly. Every day there are thousands of new cases of HIV infections in the world and these occur in every country. At the moment 13 million people in the world may have HIV. HIV stands for Human lmmunodeficiency Virus. It has been given this name because its long term effect is to attack the immune system of the body, making it weak and deficient. The immune system normally fights off infections and keeps us healthy, so it is very serious if it cannot work properly.
People who have HIV may have no symptoms for many years, and infected people may not even be aware that they have the virus. They look and feel well, but can infect other people during this time - not during everyday work or play, but by having sex or sharing needles and syringes. After about 5 to 10 years, the virus has weakened their immune system so much that they develop a number of different illnesses such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, persistent diarrhoea, fever and skin infections. This condition is called AIDS Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. People who have AIDS now were probably infected with HIV 5 or more years ago, but without being aware of it.
There are medicines which can help them cope with these illnesses, but at the moment there is no vaccine, and no cure for the HIV itself, so most infected people become more and more ill and eventually die. It is important that we all know and understand about this infection, so we can protect ourselves and our families. Teenagers are growing up in a world where they will have many new opportunities, but also may sometimes be faced with new relationships, standards of behaviour and new risks. It is our responsibility and duty to know the truth of the situation.
What is AIDS ?
AIDS stands for 'Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome', a serious illness for which there is presently no cure. AIDS is caused by a virus known as HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). This virus causes the immune system to fail and the body becomes vulnerable to all kinds of illnesses that are usually rare or mild in people who are not infected by the virus. With the loss of immune function, a clinical syndrome (a group of various illnesses that together characterize a disease) develops over time and eventually results in death due to infections or cancers.
How can you get infected with AIDS ?
Even though the AIDS virus can be in any of the body's fluids ( like blood, semen, vaginal/cervical secretions and breast milk), it can only be transferred to someone else by sexual contact, blood to blood contact and perinatal contact. With an intimate sexual contact, you are at risk if infected sperm enters the or the anus. Blood to blood contacts can happen when drug users use each other's needles or during unsafe tatooing or body piercing. However, pregnant women can pass the virus on to their baby, before or after birth as well.
HIV is NOT spread through casual contact. These activities include contact such as shaking hands, sharing equipment, eating together, coughing or sneezing, using restrooms, kissing or working together. Another misconception is that a person may contact HIV from an insect bite. This is NOT true. HIV is not spread to humans by animals or insects, including mosquitoes.
How can someone who injects medicines or drugs protect themselves ?
They can protect themselves by:
1. Always having the medicines or drugs by mouth
rather than by injections, whenever possible.
2. Always using their own needle or syringe, keeping them clean, and never letting anyone else use them.
3. Always using a new needle and syringe. In some countries used needles can be exchanged for new ones.
4. By making sure that any needles or syringes they use have been properly sterilised.
How can a person sterilise needles and syringes and make them safer to use?
HIV is killed by household bleach, so this can be
used to sterilise equipment.
1. The needles or syringes should first be thoroughly washed, preferably in hot water containing detergent, and then rinsed in clean cold water.
2. They should then be completely covered in a mixture of 1 part strong bleach to 10 parts of clean cold water, and left there for 30 minutes if possible.
3. They must then be rinsed several times with clean water, as bleach and detergent are poisonous, and must never be put in or on the body, or drunk as a medicine.
A person who regularly sterilises their equipment each time is much less likely to get infected with HIV.
Can everybody get infected with AIDS ?
Many people feel that only certain 'high risk groups' are infected with HIV. This is UNTRUE. AIDS is not a typical gay disease and it doesn't discriminate. In the African countries and the Caribean area, where AIDS is part of life, it usually affects heterosexuals (people that have sex with the other gender). The chance of being infected is a lot bigger over there. In the western countries the illness was given a chance in the world of homosexuals, but, nowadays, it spreads out among heterosexual people too. It is not who you are that puts you at risk for HIV disease, it's what you do. People have died of AIDS regardless of gender, age, race, economical status or sexual orientation.
How do you know you have got AIDS ?
The first signs of aids are so common, that they could be caused by anything. Usually it is something common, because AIDS is a rare disease. The first signs of aids are severe fatigue, feeling of weakness, severe loss of weight, a fever that won't go away and prolonged diarhea. Only if these symptoms won't go away after several weeks, you could start thinking about AIDS. However, you can't see if someone has AIDS or is infected with HIV. There is no test that will show whether someone has it or not. There is a test that will show if a person has been exposed to the virus. Your local physician knows where you can have such a test done.
What do HIV test result mean ?
A negative test result means that you are NOT infected with HIV or you have recently been infected with HIV and can infect others. A positive test result means you are infected with HIV, you will always have HIV and you can infect others. If you have engaged in risky behavior or had sexual intercourse with someone who has, speak frankly to a health care provider who understands HIV disease.
What can you do to protect yourself from AIDS ?
Because there is as yet no successful vaccination against HIV, there's only one thing you can do to seriously protect yourself: safe sex. Always use a condom when having sexual intercourse (also when menstruating), avoid sex, and be very careful during oral sex.
How do condoms protect people from HIV?
HIV can be stopped from going from one person to another if the person always uses a good quality condom. A condom is a thin rubber sheath which fits over an erect penis and collects the discharged semen. It acts as a tough extra skin, and the virus (or any other sexually transmitted diseases) cannot get through the condom. Millions of people all over the world choose to use condoms. They choose them;
To make the enjoyment of sex last longer,
To prevent pregnancy, so they can enjoy sex but limit and time their children, thus keeping the mother and baby healthy,
To enjoy sex knowing that they are protecting themselves and their partner from sexually transmitted diseases.
Why is it important to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and to get them cured?
There are many sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhoea, syphilis or ciamydia. If they are left untreated they can damage the sex organs, making it much more likely that the infected person will get HIV. Eventually these diseases can cause much pain and lead to infertility.
Most sexually transmitted diseases can be completely cured. If anyone thinks that he or she has been at risk of catching one, or has symptoms such as painful urination, a discharge, smell, a rash or sores on their sex organs, the person should go at once to a doctor or health worker for a checkup and treatment.
How can we help people who are HIV positive or who have AIDS?
Now that we know how HIV is not passed on, you will understand that it is absolutely safe to work with people who are HIV positive or have AIDS. These people may at first feel lost and frightened, but with friendship and help they can learn to cope, and make plans for the future of their families. We can support them by:
- being a good friend and letting them talk about
how they feel,
- giving them a hug to show that we are not afraid,
- helping to look after the family,
- assisting the health workers and family members who are caring for them,
- visiting them at home or in hospital when they develop AIDS,
- sharing in the sorrow of the family when they die.
What about the future?
Scientists, doctors and pharmacists all over the world are working hard to find a vaccine and a cure for HIV, and to develop medicines for the diseases of AIDS. Although they have discovered many things, a cure is not yet in sight. This is why it is so important that we, the ordinary people of the world, join together to share our information on how we can prevent the spread of HIV. We can all be educated about the true facts, and help people to understand what they must do at once to protect their health and the health of their partners and families.