Once thought to be a “foreign” disease affecting under-developed African nations, AIDS has been elevated to near-epidemic status in the United States. In fact the CDC estimates that approximately 1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV or AIDS, and a fourth of those don’t even know they are infected. How much do you know about HIV and AIDS? Could you be at risk? And is there a cure on the horizon? December 1st is World AIDS Day, keep reading to learn more about this deadly disease.Diagnosing HIV and AIDS
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is a result of HIV, which is a virus (HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus).
When someone is HIV positive it does not mean they have AIDS. Many people who are HIV positive don’t show signs of AIDS for many years. But, as HIV progresses it weakens the immune system and the individual becomes more prone to contracting parasites, fungi, viruses and bacteria. When the virus progresses to AIDS it means that the virus has weakened the immune system to the point at which the body has a difficult time fighting infection. According to the CDC, “when someone has one or more specific infections, certain cancers, or a very low number of T cells, he or she is considered to have AIDS.”Testing for HIV
If an individual becomes infected with HIV his or her body tries to fight off the infection by producing certain antibodies. A blood test is performed that looks for these specific antibodies and if the antibodies are found in the blood it indicates that the individual has the HIV infection. How HIV Is Contracted
All fluids including vaginal fluid, semen, blood, saliva, tears, and even breast milk of an individual with HIV contain the HIV virus. Some ways that people can contract the HIV virus include:
- Having unprotected sex with someone who has the virus
- Sharing contaminated needles
- Through childbirth
- Drinking breast milk from an infected mother
It used to be that getting a blood transfusion was one way to contract AIDS; however blood supplies are carefully screened and that risk has been greatly decreased, if not eliminated, in the United States. It is also possible to contract HIV through oral sex and open-mouth kissing if there are open sores present around the mouth area. Day-to-day activities such as shaking hands, hugging or a casual kiss will not transmit the disease, nor can you contract it from things like a drinking fountain, toilet seat, food or pets.
The virus will multiply in a person's body for several weeks before the immune system starts to show signs of weakening. And, it’s possible for an individual to infect others even if they don’t yet test positive for the virus.Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of HIV vary from person to person. Some experience headaches, fever, sore joints, sore muscles, skin rashes, stomachaches or swollen lymph glands for several weeks. Many people think they just have the flu. Some people do not have any symptoms at all.A Cure for AIDS?
There is no cure for AIDS at this time. However there are some drugs that will slow the HIV virus from progressing and therefore slow down damage to the immune system. You cannot eliminate HIV from your body.Get Tested
Could you be one of the 250,000 in the U.S. who don’t know they’re infected? The only sure way to find out is to get tested. Not knowing only puts you – and others – at risk.