HIV in a nutshell
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus
HIV is a virus. Viruses like HIV cannot reproduce on their own, they need to infect cells of living organisms in order to replicate (make new copies of themselves). The human immune system usually fights viruses fairly quickly, but HIV attacks the immune system that normally fights the virus itself.
Transmission of HIV
HIV is found in the blood, sexual fluids and in the breast milk of an infected individual. HIV transmission occurs when a sufficient quantity of these fluids enter into someone else’s bloodstream. A person can become infected with HIV by:
- Being in contact with an infected person’s blood. If sufficient blood from an individual who is infected with the HIV virus enters someone else’s body, then HIV can be transmitted to the individual.
- Use of infected blood products, e.g. blood transfusion.
- Use of contaminated needles, e.g. drug users.
- From mother to child: HIV can be transmitted from an infected woman to her baby during pregnancy (if not put on HAART), delivery and breastfeeding.
- Having unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person.
The connection between HIV and AIDS
AIDS is caused by HIV damaging the immune system cells until the immune system can no longer fight off other infections that it would usually be able to prevent. If left untreated, it takes about ten years on average for someone with HIV to develop AIDS. However, this timeframe is based on the person with HIV having a well-balanced diet and not engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse. Someone who is malnourished may progress to AIDS rapidly.
Prevention of HIV/AIDS
There is currently no cure or vaccine for HIV/AIDS. Education about HIV and how it is spread is an essential part of prevention.
Starting HIV treatment
HIV infection is a chronic and manageable condition. People with HIV can live long and healthy lives with access to antiretroviral treatment. The average person is recommended to start treatment when their CD4 count drops to between 350 -500 cells/mm.
Types of tests
There are a number of tests that are used to find out whether a person is infected with HIV. These tests include the HIV antibody test, p24 antigen test, Elisa and rapid tests. A CD4 and viral blood test are used once a person has been diagnosed with HIV for monitoring.