HIV FAQs

1.   What Is HIV?

“HIV” stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

Many people also refer to HIV as the “AIDS virus.”

HIV lives in the blood and other body fluids that contain blood or white blood cells.

2.   HIV and AIDS

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a condition in which the immune system begins to fail, leading to life-threatening opportunistic infections.

Infection with HIV occurs by the transfer of blood, semen, vaginal fluid, pre-ejaculate, or breast milk.

When the virus enters the body, HIV begins to disable the body’s immune system by using the body’s aggressive immune responses to the virus to infect, replicate and kill immune system cells. The gradual deterioration of the immune function leads to AIDS.

3.   What is AIDS?

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the final stage of HIV infection. The Centers for Disease Control establish the definition of AIDS, which occurs in HIV-infected persons with fewer than 200 CD4+T cells and/or persons with HIV who develop certain opportunistic infections.

4.   What are CD4+T or T4 cells?

CD4+T cells, also called T4 cells, are the immune system’s key infection fighters.

The T4 cells are disabled and destroyed by HIV, often with no symptoms, causing a significant decrease in the blood levels of these cells.

In the advanced stages of HIV, the body may have fewer than 200 T4 cells, while a healthy adult’s count is 1,000 or more.

In this way, the body’s immune system is continuously weakened from the moment of infection and the inability of the immune system to fight infection opens the door to opportunistic infections.

  1. What are Opportunistic Infections?

Opportunistic infections are a result of the weakened immune system present in persons with HIV/AIDS.

An infection takes the “opportunity” provided by the weakened immune system to cause an illness that is usually controlled by a healthy immune system.

These infections are sometimes life-threatening and require medical intervention to prevent or treat serious illnesses.

Persons living with advanced HIV infection suffer opportunistic infections of the lungs, brain, eyes and other organs.

  1. UNSAFE ACTIVITIES

Unsafe sex has a high risk of spreading HIV.

The greatest risk is when blood or sexual fluid touches the soft, moist areas (mucous membrane) inside the rectum, vagina, mouth, nose, or at the tip of the penis. These can be damaged easily, which gives HIV a way to get into the body.

Vaginal or rectal intercourse without protection is very unsafe. Sexual fluids enter the body, and wherever a man’s penis is inserted, it can cause small tears that make HIV infection more likely.

The receptive partner is more likely to be infected, although HIV might be able to enter the penis, especially if it has contact with HIV-infected blood or vaginal fluids for a long time or if it has any open sores.

  1. SAFER ACTIVITIES

Most sexual activity carries some risk of spreading HIV. To reduce the risk, you should make it more difficult for blood or sexual fluid to get into your body.

Be aware of your body and your partner’s.
Cuts, sores, or bleeding gums increase the risk of spreading HIV.
Rough physical activity also increases the risk.
Even small injuries give HIV a way to get into the body.

Use a barrier to prevent contact with your partner’s blood or sexual fluid.

Remember that the body’s natural barrier is the skin.
If you don’t have any cuts or sores, your skin will protect you against infection. However, in rare cases HIV can get into the body through healthy mucous membranes. The risk of infection is much higher if the membranes are damaged.

The most common artificial barrier is a CONDOM for men.

  1. WHAT ARE CONDOMS?

A condom is a tube made of thin, flexible material. It is closed at one end. Condoms have been used for a long time to prevent pregnancy by keeping a man’s semen out of a woman’s vagina.

Condoms also help prevent diseases that are spread by semen or by contact with infected sores in the genital area, including HIV.

A new type of condom was designed to fit into a woman’s vagina.

  1. More about CONDOMS:
  • When used correctly, condoms are the best way to prevent the spread of HIV during sexual activity.
  • Condoms can protect the mouth, vagina or rectum from HIV-infected semen.
  • They can protect the penis from HIV-infected vaginal fluids and blood in the mouth, vagina, or rectum.
  • They reduce the risk of spreading other sexually transmitted diseases.
  1. Wearing a Condom correctly:
  • Put the condom on when your penis is erect – but before it touches your partner’s mouth or rectum. Many couples use a condom too late, after some initial penetration. Direct genital contact can transmit some diseases. The liquid that comes out of the penis (pre-cum) before orgasm can contain HIV.
  • If you want, put some water-based lubricant inside the tip of the condom.
  • If you are not circumcised, push your foreskin back before you put on a condom. This lets your foreskin move without breaking the condom.
  • Squeeze air out of the tip of the condom to leave room for semen (cum). Unroll the rest of the condom down the penis.
  • Do not “double bag” (use two condoms). Friction between the condoms increases the chance of breakage.
  • After orgasm, hold the base of the condom and pull out before your penis gets soft.
  • Be careful not to spill semen onto your partner when you throw the condom away.
  • Tie the open end of used condom so that the semen does not spill out and disposed off it safely
  1. Condoms: Myths & Facts

MYTH: Condoms break a lot.
FACT: Less than 2% of condoms break when they are used correctly.

CORRECT USAGE:
DO NOT USE oils, vaseline or creams with latex condoms as lubricant. USE a water-soluble lubricant like KY Jelly.
DO NOT USE double condoms – i.e. one condom over another.
DO NOT USE outdated condoms – i.e. beyond their expiry date.

MYTH: HIV can get through condoms.
FACT: HIV can not get through latex or polyurethane condoms.

  1. ORAL SEX

The risk of infection from oral sex is believed to be low.

However oral sex has some risk of transmitting HIV, especially if sexual fluids get in the mouth and if there are bleeding gums or sores in the mouth.

Condoms without lubricants are best for oral sex. Most lubricants taste awful.

  1. Chemoprophylaxis (PEP and PREP)

People who have had unprotected sex accidentally – due to condom breakage or failure – or due to oversight or sheer carelessness, and wish to correct their mistake may have some solution to the problem in the form of postexposure prophylaxis (PEP)

The use of PEP, using antiretroviral medications appears to reduce the risk of HIV infection in health care workers following occupational exposure to HIV (eg, needlesticks or other contact with infected blood).

No study has yet quantified efficacy of PEP following sexual exposure to HIV, but nonrandomized studies suggest that PEP may be effective in reducing the risk of HIV infection.
PEP is now recommended for sexual exposures, including sexual assault.
Treatment must be initiated within 72 hours of exposure, and should be followed for 28 days under the supervision of a physician.

The use of anti-retroviral medication administered prior to sexual exposure (pre-exposure prophylaxis, PREP) to reduce the risk of HIV infection is under study in high-risk populations.

  1. KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING

Using alcohol or drugs before or during sex greatly increases the chances that you will not follow safer sex guidelines.
Be very careful if you have used any alcohol or drugs.

  1. WHAT IF BOTH PARTNERS ARE ALREADY INFECTED?

Some people who are HIV-infected don’t see the need to follow safer sex guidelines when they are sexual with other infected people. However, it still makes sense to “play safe”.

If you don’t “play safe”, you could be exposed to other sexually transmitted infectionssuch as herpes or syphilis. If you already have HIV, these diseases can be more serious.

Also, you might get “re-infected” with a different strain of HIV. This new version of HIV might not be controlled by the medications you are taking. It might also be resistant to other antiretroviral drugs.

There is no way of knowing how risky it is for two HIV-positive people to have unsafe sex. Following the guidelines for safer sex will reduce the risk.

  1. What are the symptoms of HIV?

The only way to determine HIV infection is to be tested. There a period between the person gets infected and the symptoms start showing up. This is the latent period. The latent periods vary from person to person. It is common during the first two to four weeks of infection that people experience flu-like symptoms and enlarged lymph nodes. This is because the virus migrates to various organs in the body, particularly the lymphoid organs. During this stage people are highly infectious and HIV is present in large quantities in genital secretions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA, the following are symptoms that may be warning signs of HIV infections:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Dry cough
  • Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
  • Profound and unexplained fatigue
  • Swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin or neck
  • Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
  • White spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth or in the throat
  • Pneumonia
  • Red, brown, pink or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose or eyelids
  • Memory loss, depression and other neurological disorders

Remember that the only way to determine HIV infection is to be tested for the virus. No one should assume they are HIV positive or negative based on the presence or absence of any of the above symptoms. Each symptom can be related to other illnesses; similarly, other symptoms or the absence of symptoms cannot assure that someone is HIV negative. To be certain, get tested.

  1. Can I get HIV or AIDS by socialization?

You cannot get HIV or AIDS from normal daily contact with an infected person.

You will not catch it from drinking fountains, cups, glasses, plates, dry cheek kissing, shaking hand or normal interaction in the workplace or school setting. HIV is not an airborne virus.