AIDS Awareness Month

Many are probably not aware that October is AIDS Awareness Month. AIDS awareness seems to get overshadowed by a lot of different things. While it may not be as commonly heard of as cancer, it does exist and people do suffer from it.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is a set of symptoms and illnesses that develop as a result of advanced HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and destroys a white blood cell called a T-helper cell. The virus makes copies of itself inside these T-helper cells, as the virus does this, it gradually breaks down a person’s immune system. Someone who doesn't receive treatment for HIV will find it continuously harder to fight off infections and diseases. If HIV is left untreated, it make take 10 to 15 years for the immune system to become so severely damaged, that it cannot defend itself anymore. The speed of HIV progresses depending on a person’s age, health, and background.

Fewer people will develop AIDS if they seek treatment for HIV. There is no cure for HIV but with treatment people can live long and healthy lives. HIV treatment involves taking medications that slow the progression of the virus in the body. The medications used to do this are called Antiretrovirals. These drugs are always given in combination with Antiretrovirals, which is a combination called Antireoviral Therapy. Many of these drugs have been used since the 1990’s and are responsible for the drop in AIDS related deaths over the past 20 years.

Antiretrovirals have side effects, but these side effects are less serious than in the past and less people experience them. Some possible side effects of taking Antirtrovirals are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty sleeping, dry mouth, headache, rash, dizziness, fatigue, and pain. Treatment failure is possible due to drug resistance. When HIV mutates and produces variations of itself, drug resistant strains of HIV can be produced. Drug resistance testing can help determine which HIV medications won’t be effective in treating someone’s HIV. It can also help determine which medications can be used to treat the HIV. Chances of drug resistance can be reduced by taking HIV medications every day and exactly as prescribed.

Here are some facts about HIV:

· You can only get HIV through the bodily fluids of an infected person (e.g. blood, semen, breast milk).

· HIV can be transmitted during unprotected sex; through sharing injecting equipment; from mother-to-baby during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding; and through contaminated blood transfusions.

· HIV cannot survive outside the body. It cannot be spread through the air, from touching, toilet seats or shared cutlery.

· Using condoms during sex, avoiding shared injecting equipment, and taking HIV treatment if you are a new or expectant mother will protect you and those around you from HIV.

· There are plenty of places which offer free HIV testing - a quick search on the internet will help you find your nearest service provider.    

· Testing for HIV is a really simple process and usually involves taking a small sample of blood or oral fluid. 

· Some HIV tests will give a result within 20 minutes and other tests are sent to a lab so it may take a few weeks to get your results.

To read more about HIV / AIDS check out the following websites:

All information from avert.org and hiv.gov