What is HIV, what is AIDS

HIV stands for “Human Immunodeficiency Virus”. It is the presence of this virus that can eventually develop into AIDS, or HIV related illness, as a result of damage to the immune system. AIDS stands for “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome”, and is defined as an illness characterised by one or more particular diseases. HIV attacks the immune system. Our immune system protects our body from illnesses. The symptoms may not appear for many years. The first signs may be one or more of the following symptoms: severe tiredness, night sweats, fever, weight loss, swollen lymph glands, persistent diarrhoea.

How is HIV transmitted?

  • Blood to blood contact i.e. sharing of contaminated injecting equipment
  • Sexual contact
  • Mother to baby (vertical transmission)

HIV can be found in all body fluids, but is much more concentrated in:

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Vaginal fluid

The only way of knowing if you have HIV is to have a blood test. Without visible symptoms, nobody can see that these people are HIV positive. They can infect others through unsafe sexual contact and blood-to-blood contact. Mothers with HIV can also pass the virus on to their babies while pregnant, during the delivery and by nursing.

What happens if somebody has HIV?

He or she will not have any symptoms in the beginning. Over time, the virus attacks the immune system, which becomes less effective at fighting infection. Diseases of the immune system occur, defined as HIV-related illness, or AIDS. Left untreated, these illnesses will ultimately cause death. However, while there is no vaccine or cure for HIV infection, symptoms can be successfully treated in many cases with the right combination of medication. Drugs are also available to suppress the activity of HIV on the immune system, known as “combination therapy”.

How can you avoid infection?

  • Practice “safer sex”
  • Safer injecting techniques
  • Use of universal precautions (when handling body fluids, avoiding needle stick injuries by wearing gloves, using sharp save boxes)

Infecting your baby

While pregnant, a mother can pass infectious diseases on to her unborn child. Women who want to become pregnant and may be infected can have themselves tested for HIV. Use of combination therapy during pregnancy greatly reduces the risk of passing on the virus to the baby. Checking for other infectious diseases, such as STI’s (Sexually Transmitted Infections) and hepatitis is also a good idea.