HIV is an illness about which there are many misconceptions. There are lots of myths that people fall for, which are difficult to dispel. Many people don’t learn about HIV and AIDS at school. They may not have been taught or weren’t paying attention. Even those who do learn about it often forget or don’t know much. One of the things many people have misconceptions about is how HIV is transmitted. This can lead to great stigma for people who are HIV positive. People believe that it can be transmitted through kissing or touching, as well as other myths. Understanding HIV and AIDS and how HIV is transmitted is important for a number of reasons. It’s essential for people to look after their own sexual health, as well as to reduce the stigma.
What Is HIV?
Before understanding how HIV is transmitted, it’s a good idea to understand just what it is. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. The virus attacks the immune system, making it more difficult to fight off illness. Although there is currently no cure for HIV, treatments for it are improving all the time. With the right medication and lifestyle, people who are HIV positive can still have a long life. However, there are still health issues and side effects that HIV+ people have to deal with. HIV is one of the most serious sexually transmitted diseases because there is no cure. It affects people for life and can eventually progress to AIDS.
What’s the Difference Between HIV and AIDS?
There is often a lot of confusion over the difference between HIV and AIDS. People often use them interchangeably, although they are not the same thing. People who have AIDS are HIV positive, but not everyone who has HIV has AIDS. AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. It is the final stage of HIV infection, after it has progressed for many years. Rather than being a separate disease, AIDS is when a person can no longer fight off infections. If a person’s CD4 count (white T-helper blood cells) is below 200, they receive an AIDS diagnosis.
How Is HIV Transmitted?
HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids, such as blood, breast milk, and sexual excretions. However, it cannot be transmitted through sweat or urine. The chances of infection through saliva is very low. The most common way HIV is transmitted is through sexual intercourse without a condom. Other ways include from mother to child through breastfeeding or during pregnancy. It can also be transmitted through sharing needles or other drug paraphernalia. There is more than one type of HIV. So it’s important for even HIV+ people to remember that they have a risk of reinfection. However, it’s also important to remember that the virus is not very stable. It cannot survive long outside of the body; only a few seconds, in fact.
Can You Get HIV From…
Many people have questions about scenarios they have heard could lead to HIV infection. For example, a lot of people are told at some point that you could get it from using a toilet seat. In reality, the likelihood of that happening are so minuscule. It isn’t worth considering. For HIV to be transmitted in that manner, two people who both had open wounds would have to use the same toilet seat seconds after each other. Even then, the chances of infection would still be small. A slightly more realistic thing that people worry about is getting HIV from kissing. However, it’s still only a tiny bit more realistic. A person would again have to have open sores in their mouth, and it would take a lot of saliva to transmit the virus.
Most people are unlikely to have to worry about HIV during their day to day lives. You won’t accidentally pick it up from sharing a glass with someone. You won’t get it touching someone in a non-sexual manner, unless you both have open wounds. Before believing anything you hear about HIV transmission, it’s always best to research. You can quickly dispel some common myths by googling them.
Are You More Likely to Get HIV from Different Sexual Acts?
Sexual intercourse without a condom is the most common way HIV is transmitted. You may have heard things about the different risks for different sexual acts. Some acts do present a lower risk of infection, such as oral sex or using sex toys. For example, there is about a 1 in 5,000 chance of getting HIV if you have oral sex with someone who is positive. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t practice safe sex at all times. Although the risk of infection might sometimes be lower, it is still present. It’s important to remember that some acts are riskier than others too. Statistically, anal sex has the highest risk of infection – between 0.11 percent and 1.43%.
Although the numbers might be interesting, they shouldn’t be used as a way to negotiate safe sex. The safest thing to do is always to use protection and be as safe as possible. The risk might be low, but it’s even lower if you use a condom and other barriers, such as latex gloves or dental dams.
Are Some Groups at Higher Risk Than Others?
Another thing to consider is whether some people have a higher risk of infection than others. Keep in mind that sex is not the only way that HIV is transmitted. So there are some lifestyles or professions that might mean someone has a higher risk. For example, drug users who share needles with others have a higher risk. People who work in medical professions need to be careful. There is a slight risk when dealing with bodily fluids and sharp objects. Regarding sexual activity, those who have unprotected sex with multiple partners are engaging in risky behavior. Some groups have higher rates of infection than others. For example, in the UK the two groups with the highest HIV rates are gay and bisexual men and black Africans.
What Are the HIV Transmission Rates?
In the abstract, the risk of transmitting HIV can seem very low. It is often less than 1 or 2 percent per sex act. However, when looking at actual transmission rates, things can look different. For example, researchers have suggested that about half of young gay men in the US will be HIV+ by the time they are 50. In the UK, about 1 in every 620 people have HIV, including around 17 percent who don’t know it. It’s important to consider factors that can make HIV transmission more or less likely. For example, six to 12 weeks after contracting the virus, there is a higher viral load. This can make someone much more infectious. If someone has another STI, the risk of HIV infection is also increased.
How High Is the Risk of HIV for Drug Users?
After sex without a condom, sharing needles is the second most common way of getting HIV in many places. People who inject drugs may use a needle or syringe. On average, the risk of HIV transmission from sharing a needle once with an HIV positive person is 0.67 percent. However, there are factors that can make the actual risk higher, as above. There are several reasons that many drug users share needles. The criminalization of drug use and marginalization of users is one factor. Many places have needle and syringe programs to make clean needles available. However, they are not always accessible.
What About Blood or Breast Milk?
Some people may also consider the risk of contracting HIV through other bodily fluids. It is sometimes passed on from mother to child during pregnancy. It can also happen during birth or when breastfeeding. However, the risk of this can be reduced, providing that the mother has received a diagnosis. Pregnant women who take HIV medication can reduce the risk of infecting their child. They may also have a C-section instead of a natural birth. HIV medication is also given to babies for several weeks after birth. In countries where safe drinking water is accessible, formula milk is recommended.
There are also other ways HIV could be transmitted through blood. These include health workers accidentally being exposed to infected fluids and blood transfusions. However, both of these are very unlikely, especially in developed countries. There are some countries where the risk of infection from a blood transfusion is higher. For example, some countries in Africa or the former Soviet Union.
HIV Around the World
Of course, HIV is a global problem. The risk of infecting HIV is very different in many developing countries, for a number of reasons. Women are much more at risk in developing countries such as India or Tanzania. In fact, 80 percent of all young women with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa. There are many issues that contribute to the rates of HIV in these countries. For women, things like domestic violence and access to health care must be taken into account. Rape and “intimate partner violence” increase the risk of HIV infection. Research has revealed societal issues that contribute. For example, abusive husbands in India are more likely to be infected with HIV. In Tanzania, men are encouraged to have unprotected sex outside of their marriage.
Many women face barriers to health care. This can mean a lack of education and sexual health services. This means they are unable to reduce their risks of infection. They may also not be diagnosed for a long time or at all. When health care services are available, providers are not always able to provide help.
How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Contracting HIV?
Ultimately, you shouldn’t try to gauge your risk of contracting HIV. The best thing to do is to assume that you always have a chance of contracting it when engaging in risky behavior. When it comes to sex, the best way to prevent HIV infection is to always use a condom. Not only should you use them every time, but you should use them properly too. They may seem simple, but there are some important rules to follow. For example, no one should use a condom that has been in their wallet for the last year. It’s important to use them as instructed and to handle them with care. Taking one out of its packet with long fingernails isn’t a good idea. You might also choose to use female condoms, dental dams or gloves for extra protection.
There are other risks to manage, apart from having sex. Anyone who injects drugs should be sure to use clean equipment and never share with anyone else. Seeking out needle programs and other services makes this easier to do. Although it is an unlikely method of transmission, people in health care professions should be careful. They should ensure they have adequate training and knowledge. Health and safety in the workplace should involve methods for managing sharps and fluids.
What Are PrEP and PEP?
PrEP and PEP are medications that can help prevent HIV infection. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. It is recommended for people engaging in behavior that increases their risk of infection. They include HIV negative people who are in a relationship with someone with HIV. It may also be recommended for those who have sex with multiple partners without condoms. People who have shared needles recently can benefit from it too. PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis and can help to prevent infection after exposure. Both PrEP and PEP can reduce the risk of HIV infection significantly. PrEP can reduce the risk by more than 90 percent if taken consistently. PEP is an emergency medication, which is most effective when taken as soon as possible. A course of PEP should be started within 72 hours of possible HIV exposure.
The risk of contracting HIV depends on a wide range of factors. It is impossible to calculate an individual’s chances of contracting HIV. However, they may fall into certain at-risk groups. The best way to avoid infection is to avoid risky behaviors. Some people should also consider taking PrEP to lower their risk of infection.