Millions of people die of HIV/AIDS each day, so here are 10 facts about AIDS to help you stay healthy.
- What HIV Stands For HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. The HIV virus attacks the body’s white blood cells, which fight off infection. HIV damages and eventually destroy the immune system.
- What AIDS Stands For AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and is the advanced stage of HIV. A person is diagnosed with AIDS if they are HIV positive and their T cell count drops below a certain point. (T cells, or T lymphocytes, are a type of white blood cells.) Even if a person’s T cells rise to normal levels, they are still considered to have AIDS.
- No One Ever Dies of AIDS Though over 25 million people with AIDS have died since 1981, no one ever dies of AIDS. HIV kills white blood cells that fight off infection, so when some “dies of AIDS” what it actually means is that they picked up an infection or disease and because their immune system was so severely compromised, it killed them. Diseases and infections that healthy immune systems can fight off are often what people with AIDS die from.
- No, You Can’t Get It from Sweat The stigma and fear around HIV/AIDS has caused falsehoods about its transmission to spread like wild fire. There are four fluids that can transmit HIV: blood, semen (including pre-cum), vaginal fluids (including amniotic fluid), and breast milk. Sweat and saliva cannot transmit HIV.
- Yes, You Can Get It from Oral Sex The basics of HIV transmission are simple: get any of those four fluids from someone who is HIV positive inside your body, and you may have contracted HIV. While the most common ways to get HIV are through sexual intercourse and needle sharing, anytime one of those four fluids comes in contact with mucous membranes (such as inside the mouth or the vagina), transmission is possible.
- It Isn’t A Gay Disease While this may seem like an outdated myth, it’s still one of the most prevalent. Sexual orientation has nothing do with HIV transmission. Neither do gender and skin color. Ultimately, the people who are most likely to get AIDS are those who engage in risky behavior.
- HIV Tests Are Simple, Painless and Free The first and most important step in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS is making sure those who have it know they do. Health departments and clinics such as Planned Parenthood usually offer HIV tests free and anonymously and test using blood, urine or saliva. There are also kits sold at pharmacies that allow testing at home.
- The HIV Test Doesn’t Actually Check for HIV Interestingly enough, HIV tests don’t actually go searching for the HIV virus. Instead, it tests for antibodies. Antibodies are what the immune system sends out to battle viruses and infections, and it sends out different antibodies for each disease. If HIV antibodies are found in a person’s bloodstream, they are labeled HIV positive.
- Not Everyone With HIV Looks Sick Most people with HIV are not bedridden; they live normal lives and do normal things just like everyone else. It can take more than a decade for an HIV positive person’s T cells to drop low enough to be considered AIDS. This is a hopeful thing for anyone who was recently diagnosed with HIV, but it also a reminder that it is essential to be tested since tell tale symptoms might not show up for years.
- How To Help In the past few years, HIV/AIDS has become a well publicized worldwide epidemic. While in the past HIV has basically been a death sentence, there are now antiviral drugs that can significantly lengthen the lifespan of HIV patients. In the world today, there are 9.5 million people who are in need of these drugs, but less than half of them are receiving them. To help them, look into the United Nations’ HIV/AIDS awareness programs. And, of course, the best way to stop HIV from spreading is to get tested and encourage others to do the same.