The forbidden word | Sunday Observer

The forbidden word

Today marks the International Day of AIDS, HIV/AIDS also known as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome commonly known as AIDS.

The first case was reported 30 years ago in the United States of America, where it was a massive outbreak. Back then information on the HIV/AIDS virus was less known.

Thirty 30 years hence, with many research organisations and humanitarian foundations have been working to spread awareness, remove the stigma attached and share accurate information.

There was a time in Lanka, where HIV/AIDS was considered a taboo to be discussed or educate the public. Today with many activists and organisations involved people are much aware of the topic.

Here are a few common facts about HIV/AIDS one should know about.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is a retrovirus that infects cells of the human immune system (mainly CD4-positive T-cells and macrophages—key components of the cellular immune system) and destroys or impairs their function. Infection with this virus results in the progressive depletion of the immune system, leading to immunodeficiency.

The immune system is considered deficient when it can no longer fulfil its role of fighting off infection and diseases. People with immunodeficiency are much more vulnerable to a wide range of infections and cancers, most of which are rare among people without immunodeficiency. Diseases associated with severe immunodeficiency are known as opportunistic infections because they take advantage of a weakened immune system.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and describes the collection of symptoms and infections associated with acquired deficiency of the immune system. Infection with HIV has been established as the underlying cause of AIDS. The level of immunodeficiency or the appearance of certain infections are used as indicators that HIV infection has progressed to AIDS.

What are the symptoms of HIV?

Most people infected with HIV do not know that they have become infected. Immediately after the infection, some people have a glandular fever-like illness (with fever, rash, joint pains and enlarged lymph nodes), which can occur at the time of seroconversion. Seroconversion refers to the development of antibodies to HIV and usually takes place between one and two months after an infection has occurred.

Despite the fact that HIV infection often does not cause any symptoms, a person newly infected with HIV is infectious and can transmit the virus to another person. The way to determine whether HIV infection has occurred is by taking an HIV test.

HIV infection causes a gradual depletion and weakening of the immune system. This results in an increased susceptibility of the body to infections and cancers and can lead to the development of AIDS.

When does a person have AIDS?

The term AIDS applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection.

The majority of people infected with HIV, if not treated, develop signs of AIDS within eight to 10 years.

AIDS is identified on the basis of certain infections. Stage 1 HIV disease is asymptomatic and not categorised as AIDS. Stage II (includes minor mucocutaneous manifestations and recurrent upper respiratory tract infections), III (includes unexplained chronic diarrhoea for longer than a month, severe bacterial infections and pulmonary tuberculosis) or IV (includes toxoplasmosis of the brain, candidiasis of the oesophagus, trachea, bronchi or lungs and Kaposi’s sarcoma) HIV disease are used as indicators of AIDS. Most of these conditions are opportunistic infections that can be treated easily in healthy people.


How can HIV infection be prevented?

Sexual transmission of HIV can be prevented by:

Monogamous relations between uninfected partners.

Non-penetrative sex.

Consistent and correct use of male or female condoms

Sex between two people when one of them is living with HIV but in taking antiretroviral therapy and has undetectable viral load

Pre-exposure prophylaxis taken by people who are not infected with HIV.

Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision reduces the chances of men acquiring HIV from women.

Additional ways of avoiding infection:

If you are an injecting drug user, always use new needles and syringes that are disposable or needles and syringes that have been properly sterilised before reuse or opt for other prevention measures such as Opioid Substitution therapy.

Ensure that blood and blood products are tested for HIV and that blood safety standards are implemented.

What is safer sex?

Safer sex involves taking precautions that decrease the potential of transmitting or acquiring sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, while having sex. Using condoms correctly and consistently during sex is considered safer sex, as is oral sex and non-penetrative sex or taking pre exposure prophylaxis if you are at risk of HIV infection or having undetectable viral load if you are living with HIV.

How effective are condoms in preventing HIV?

Quality-assured condoms are the only products currently available to protect against sexual infection by HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. When used properly, condoms are a proven and effective means of preventing HIV infection among women and men.

In order to achieve the protective effect of condoms, they must be used correctly and consistently. Incorrect use can lead to condom slippage or breakage, thus diminishing their protective effect.


Antiretroviral therapy (ART)

As per the guidelines laid by the World Health Organization (WHO) Sri Lanka, treatment is recommended for all adults and adolescents with HIV immediately, regardless of their CD4+ cell count. Antiretrovirals (ARVs) are a group of drugs that inhibit different steps in the HIV replication process and the cornerstone of HIV/AIDS management. ARVs have been consistently proven to reduce death due to HIV/AIDS and to reduce the development of AIDS-defining conditions. It should be noted that treatment is lifelong.

Information was taken from various sources rellevant to the subject.