What you need to know about HIV.

What is HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)? Learn how HIV is transmitted and how it’s linked to AIDS.

What you need to know about HIV.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus

HIV is a virus. Viruses like HIV cannot reproduce on their own. Viruses need to infect the cells of living organisms to replicate, or make new copies of themselves). Your 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 HIV-positive person.

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The connection between HIV and AIDS

AIDS is caused by HIV damaging the immune system cells. This is the last stage of HIV infection, where 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. 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

There is currently no cure or vaccine for HIV. 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. In South Africa, if you test and find you are HIV-positive, you will be started on ARV treatment immediately after diagnosis. 

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.

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