World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day - December 1st

Safeguarding Against HIV/AIDS

HIV remains a major public health challenge globally, with around 38 million people estimated to be living with the infection. Sub-Saharan Africa bears the brunt of the HIV epidemic, with close to 66% of HIV cases within the region.

Even with this sobering information, huge strides are occurring to curb the epidemic, resulting in long, productive lives of those diagnosed with HIV and notable decrease in HIV transmission risk.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that while progress in HIV response has been promising, children continue to be adversely affected by the epidemic, with most new infections in children and adolescents occurring in sub-Sahara Africa, the epicenter of HIV and AIDS:

  • About 2.8 million children and adolescents are living with HIV, nearly 88% within sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Only 54% of infected children and adolescents were on HIV treatment as compared to 85% of pregnant women living with HIV.
  • In 2020, at least 300,000 children were newly infected with HIV, or 1 child every 2 minutes. That same year, 120,000 children and adolescents died from AIDS-related causes, or 1 child every 5 minutes.
  • In 2021, roughly 1.7 million children, from infant through 14 years of age, are living with the virus.

Additionally, HIV continues to compromise the health of women and young girls. In 2021, 54% of those living with HIV were women and girls. While new infections have been reduced by 54% since HIV’s peak in 1996, it’s important to note women and girls accounted for 49% of all new HIV infections in 2021.

December 1 is designated World AIDS Day and your Capital Women’s Care team of women’s health professionals share pertinent information about HIV and AIDS, including symptoms, treatment management options and important health tips to safeguard against HIV/AIDS infection and transmission.

What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) attacks cells that help the body fight infection, increasing vulnerability of those infected to opportunistic infections and diseases. It’s transmitted by contact with specific bodily fluids of an HIV-infected individual, including:

  • blood
  • semen
  • pre-seminal fluid
  • rectal fluids
  • vaginal fluids
  • and breast milk.

These fluids must contact a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (via needle or syringe) for HIV transmission to occur. Mucous membranes are located inside the rectum, vagina, penis and mouth. Transmission occurs most commonly during unprotected sex (sex without using a condom or HIV medicine to prevent or treat HIV) or through sharing injected drug paraphernalia.

HIV occurs in 3 stages:

  • Stage 1: Acute HIV Infection. Includes flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and mouth ulcers.
  • Stage 2: Clinical Latency (also known as chronic HIV infection.) At this stage, the virus still multiplies at very low levels and may not present symptoms. It’s important to monitor your viral load, as a detectable viral load means you can transmit the virus to others.
  • Stage 3: AIDS. If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS, known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

Symptoms of AIDS can include:

  • rapid weight loss
  • recurring fever or profuse night sweats
  • extreme and unexplained tiredness
  • prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
  • diarrhea lasting more than a week
  • sores of the mouth, anus or genitals
  • pneumonia
  • red, brown, pink or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose or eyelids
  • and/or memory loss, depression and other neurologic disorders.

Once infected, the HIV virus remains within the body. To date, no effective HIV cure exists, and those diagnosed have the virus for life. Fortunately, there are medication options available to manage HIV levels within the blood so those diagnosed can live long lives and greatly reduce HIV transmission risk.

HIV Treatment

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the only management treatment option currently prescribed for HIV. It reduces the amount of HIV virus within the body and helps those diagnosed stay healthy. ART may be prescribed as either a shot or oral medication. It usually gets the virus under control within 6 months of initializing treatment.

It’s important for those diagnosed to begin ART immediately; those who remain untreated risk not only their health, but that of their partner. Left untreated, HIV can damage the immune system and lead to worsening sickness, including development of AIDS.

HIV treatment keeps viral load low, meaning a lowered amount of measurable virus within the blood. It also prevents transmission to others and reduces opportunity for developing drug resistance, as HIV can mutate if recommended treatment isn’t followed or managed properly. Drug-resistant HIV strains can be transmitted to others; therefore, it’s important for those diagnosed to maintain prescribed treatment and avoid skipping or missing shots or medications.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an HIV-prevention option for those who don’t have HIV but are at risk. It involves taking specific HIV medication every day to reduce HIV risk through sex or injection drug use.

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) means taking medicine to prevent HIV after a possible exposure. PEP should be used only in emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV.

Reduce HIV/AIDS Risk and Transmission

Anyone can get HIV. However, there are several things you can do to reduce your personal HIV/AIDS risk:

  • Get tested. Discuss HIV testing with your partner and get tested before having sex. Use the GetTested locator from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to locate an HIV testing site.

  • Avoid risky sexual behaviors. HIV is primarily transmitted through unprotected (not using a condom) anal/vaginal sex or without taking medicines that prevent or treat HIV.

  • Use condoms each time you have sex. The CDC has a fact sheet on how to use condoms properly.

  • Limit number of sexual partners.  The more sexual partners you have, the more likely you are to have a partner with poorly controlled HIV or one who has a sexually transmitted disease (STD), 2 factors that increase HIV risk.

  • Get tested and treated for STDs. Insist your partners are tested and treated as well. STD infection can increase risk of getting HIV or transmitting it to others.

  • Discuss pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) with your practitioner to see if this regimen should be incorporated within your personal care plan.

  • Avoid illicit drug injection. If you choose to do so, use only sterile drug injection items and water and never share items with others.

Pregnancy and HIV

Women should be tested for HIV before becoming pregnant or as early as possible during each pregnancy. Women diagnosed with HIV who are pregnant should take prescribed HIV medications throughout their pregnancy and childbirth to prevent perinatal HIV transmission. HIV may be transmitted from an infected mother with detectable virus levels to baby during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding.

If you have HIV and take HIV medicine as prescribed by your practitioner throughout your pregnancy and childbirth and follow your pediatrician’s guidelines concerning your baby’s health relating to HIV after giving birth, your risk of transmitting HIV to your baby can be substantially minimized.  HIV medicine protects not only your personal health, but also the health of your partner and other household members.

HIV-positive mothers shouldn’t breastfeed to avoid HIV infection transmission to their babies, even if taking prescribed ART management medications.

Caesarean section delivery reduces risk of infecting baby over vaginal delivery in the case of HIV infected pregnant women.

It's important to maintain prescribed HIV management and especially during pregnancy to reduce HIV risk to your baby. Talk with your practitioner about ART management options that may be used during pregnancy if you are diagnosed with HIV and planning to conceive.

Your local Capital Women’s Care team of professional women’s health experts is here to address your questions or concerns about HIV/AIDS or any women’s health issue. Our compassionate, knowledgeable doctors, nurses, specialists and support staff prioritize thorough, personalized care and treatment so you enjoy a long quality life.

Sources:

https://medicalxpress.com/hiv-aids-news/
https://www.unicef.org/hiv
https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/data-and-trends/statistics
https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/library/reports/hiv-surveillance/vol-33/index.html
https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hiv-aids
https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/livingwithhiv/opportunisticinfections.html
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hiv-aids/symptoms-causes/...
https://www.sciencedaily.com/news/health_medicine/hiv_and_aids/
https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet
https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/symptoms-of-hiv

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