WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT HIV AND AIDS
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is a combination of infections which occurs when a person is infected with HIV. As a good citizen, it is important for you to take responsibility for protecting your health. One of the diseases that can affect your health is AIDS. You therefore need to learn about the virus (germ) that causes AIDS and how to prevent it. HIV/AIDS is affecting women, men, boys, girls and children worldwide. Most of these infections could be prevented. Your knowledge about HIV/AIDS could help you inform others; advise them to protect themselves and help prevent the spread of HIV. You will also be able to make informed decisions that will help you protect yourself and prevent HIV.
HOW HIV IS SPREAD
A person can contract HIV through four main ways:
1. Sexual intercourse with an already infected person.
2. Transfusion of infected blood.
3. Sharing injection needles, blade and other sharp instruments with someone who is infected with HIV.
4. From an infected pregnant woman to her baby before, during, or after delivery.
The HIV virus is transmitted through the exchange of body fluids. HIV is abundantly found in three major body fluids – blood, semen and vaginal secretions. It can also be found in minute quantities in saliva and breast milk. HIV can enter another when the blood, semen or vaginal secretion of an infected person comes in contact with the blood or mucus membrane of an uninfected person. Any break in the skin, sore or inflammation of the penis, vagina, rectum, bleeding gum, lips or mouth makes it easier for HIV to be contracted. There is also a risk of contracting HIV in unprotected oral sex or anal intercourse if one of the partners is infected.
HOW HIV AFFECTS THE HUMAN BODY
When the virus enters the human body, it attacks and weakens the body’s immune system. Our blood contains white and red blood cells. Normally, the white blood (soldier) cells fight off and kill germs which enter our body. They do this by eating up the germs and by producing chemicals called antibodies which kill germs. In this way our body fights off many different germs and we stay healthy. Sometimes we have symptoms of illness; when our white blood cells help us fight off the infection, we get better. But in this case, the HIV weakens this immune system by entering and finally destroying the white blood cells. As more and more white blood cells are killed, the body becomes less and less able to fight off the many different germs which live outside, around and in our bodies all the time. Finally, people with AIDS die from one of a number of serious and rare diseases, which their bodies cannot resist. HIV can also attack the brain cells and nervous system directly causing mental and co-ordination problems.
People who are infected with HIV can look and feel healthy and may not know for years that they are infected. However, they can infect other people no matter how healthy they seem. A person infected with HIV may begin to show signs of illness after six months or after many years. Finally, so much of the immune system is destroyed that the person is attacked by rare and serious infections which can eventually lead to death.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF AIDS
These are the major and minor signs and symptoms.
Major Signs and Symptoms:
1. Unexplained rapid weight loss, greater than 10% of body weight.
2. Persistent or recurrent fever that lasts for more than one month.
3. Chronic or intermittent diarrhoea that lasts for more than one month (on and off all the time).
Minor Signs and Symptoms:
1. Cough that lasts for more than one month.
2. Itchy skin rashes.
3. Cold sores all over the body.
5. Thrush in the mouth and throat.
6. Swollen glands at 2 or more sites (excluding the groin) for more than 3 months.
7. Persistent severe fatigue.
8. Night sweat.
9. Loss of appetite.
IS AIDS CURABLE?
No! AIDS has no cure, but it is preventable. There is presently no vaccine for HIV infection.
HOW TO PREVENT HIV/AIDS
Abstain from sex: The surest way to avoid sexual contact with the HIV is not to have sex at all.
Be faithful to one sexual partner: It is not safe for a person to have many sexual partners. He or she is at the risk of contracting Sexual Transmitted Infections (STIs) and HIV: The more the number of partners you have, the greater the risks of getting infected. Maintain mutual fidelity between uninfected partners.
Avoid casual sex: It is safest to not have casual sex; however, if you must have casual sex, use condom.
Use of condom: Another way to reduce the risk of transmission of the HIV is to use condoms. Condoms act as barriers to prevent exchange of semen and vaginal fluids during sexual intercourse. Condom, if used properly reduces the chances of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Use a new condom correctly each time you have sex. Do not use a condom more than once.
Avoid using or sharing unsterilized skin piercing instruments: You should not share blades, needles, and syringes. Each time you take an injection at a clinic, insist on a new needle and syringe.
Receive only screened blood: Only blood that has been screened, tested, and known to be free from HIV should be transfused.
HIV infected women should be counselled and allowed to make an informed choice as to whether they want to get pregnant because of the risk of transmission to the unborn child.
WHERE CAN WE GET HELP IF WE SUSPECT WE HAVE AIDS?
People who are worried that they might have HIV infections or AIDS should consult a doctor. The only way to tell if someone is infected with HIV is through a blood test. You will however, be advised to see a counsellor who will talk to you before taking the test.
WHAT IF THE TEST IS POSITIVE?
People need to understand before taking the test what a positive and a negative result may mean for their lives, and to explore whether it will help them to take it. A positive HIV antibody test has serious consequences for the person concerned and people close to him or her. For this reason, it is essential that the test is voluntary and that people are counselled before and after the test.
LIVING WITH HIV/AIDS
For someone who is confirmed to be infected with HIV, you can improve the quality of your life by eating well and visiting the clinic regularly. Some expensive drugs that help slow down the development of AIDS are now available, but not within the reach of an average Nigerian. People living with HIV should take care of themselves as much as they can for as long as they can. They need to be and feel as independent as possible. They need to control their own schedules, make their own decisions, and do what they want to do as much they are able. They should develop their own exercise program and eating plan. In addition to regular visits to the doctor, many people living with HIV should work at staying healthy by eating properly, sleeping regularly, doing physical exercise, praying or meditating. Well balanced, good tasting meals help people feel good, give them energy, and help their body fight illness. People living with HIV are better off if they don’t take alcoholic drinks, smoke, or use illegal drugs. Keeping up-to-date on new treatments and understanding what to expect from treatments the person is taking are also important.
The society should not discriminate against people living with HIV. They require the care and support of family members and the community.