Established on December 1 1988, World AIDS Day highlights the global fight against HIV/AIDS. While new transmissions are easily preventable thanks to tools like condoms, safe needles and anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), 1 million people lost their lives last year to AIDS-related illnesses. Half of those in need of life-saving drugs still don’t have access to them. World AIDS Day focuses on educating and empowering people to make informed choices about their sexual health, to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, show support for people who are living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died from illnesses related to AIDS.
Let’s look at what we know about HIV and AIDS as well as steps you can take to know your status.
HIV and AIDS 101
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the human immune system and makes it much more difficult for the body to fight against infection, illness and some types of cancer. Initially, patients may feel slight flu-like symptoms such as headaches, sore throat and fever. Others may experience no symptoms at all in the early stages.
As the virus advances, patients become immunodeficient. Some illnesses that healthy people can fight off easily, like the common cold or flu, could cause major complications and can be fatal.
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the final stage of the HIV. Development of AIDS from HIV can take is typically between 10-15 years. Thanks to the advancements in medications, the annual number of deaths related to AIDS continues to drop.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV is transmitted via the exchange of certain body fluids, including blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk.
HIV cannot be transmitted through touching, holding or shaking hands, sharing food or water, hugging or kissing.
There are a variety of behaviors or conditions that can increase your risk of contracting HIV:
- Having unprotected sex
- Having an STI like syphilis, herpes, or chlamydia
- Sharing contaminated needles when injecting drugs
- Receiving unsafe shots or injections for immunizations, blood transfusion, transplants and other invasive medical procedures without the proper sterilization
- Experiencing accidental needle stick injuries
Does HIV have a cure?
There is no cure for HIV. But thanks to research and advancements over the past 30+ years, there are effective treatments that help to reduce how aggressively the virus attacks the body, including antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. This type of medication is taken in combination through antiretroviral therapy (ART) and helps to prevent the growth of the virus. When the virus growth is slowed, the progression of the disease is also slowed.
ARV medications work in different ways. Some block the process by which HIV DNA is built; others don’t allow the virus to mature. There are also other forms that keep the virus from attaching to and attacking immune cells.
You can join the fight against HIV and AIDS
For 30th anniversary, the organizers of World AIDS Day want you to #RockTheRibbon. Rocking a red ribbon not only completes any outfit but it also shows everyone – especially people living with HIV and their families – your support. Click here to learn more.
Know your HIV status. HIV testing is crucial to your health and to putting an end to this disease. People who are HIV positive can lead long, healthy and productive lives. Knowing your status empowers you to make choices about preventing the spread of HIV so that you can protect your loved ones.
How can you get tested? Most community clinics and health centers offer testing options that are very low cost or free. There are also self-testing options, so that you can test for HIV in the privacy of your own home. If your insurance package offers preventative or early-detection testing, the test for HIV may be a part of the package. If you are in the U.S., you can look for a nearby HIV testing site by clicking here.
Want to do more?
Talk to your friends and loved ones about the importance of getting tested. Before engaging in an intimate relationship, make sure you have both gotten tested and always use protection. Volunteer with health centers in your community to make HIV testing and counseling more accessible. Work with local clinics and hospitals to offer free HIV testing drives at schools, universities and public meeting places.
Over 36 million people currently live with the virus worldwide. This World AIDS Day, let’s all do our part and raise awareness about how to prevent HIV, but most importantly, know your status. We have the knowledge and the tools to educate and empower people to make informed choices about their sexual health.
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