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Understanding HIV and AIDS

Every week in Ireland, 10 new people are diagnosed with HIV. Although there is no cure, you can receive that news in 2018 safe in the knowledge that your situation is extremely manageable. Thanks to medical advances, you can lead a long and healthy life with the condition. Unfortunately, some stigma still remains, with myths being spread about how you can contract HIV.

So what exactly is HIV?

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) weakens the immune system by attacking its cells. It replicates in these cells and prevents them from working properly. 

This weakening makes the body more susceptible to the kind of infections that a healthy immune system could normally fight off by itself. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the most advanced stage of HIV.

How does someone get infected?

An infected individual who is not receiving treatment can pass the virus on through the exchange of bodily fluids such as blood, breast milk, semen or vaginal secretions. If a mother has HIV, it can be passed to her unborn child and can also be passed through breastfeeding. You can also contract HIV by sharing injecting equipment with someone who has HIV.

Despite the myths you may have heard you cannot become infected through day-to-day contact like kissing, hugging, shaking hands or sharing food or water with someone who has HIV. 

What are the treatments for HIV?

Once someone is diagnosed with HIV, they will begin receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) which generally consists of three or more antiretroviral drugs. They work by preventing the virus replicating in the body which allows the immune system to regain its ability to fight off infections again. 

If someone is undergoing ART and sticks to it, it reduces the risk of transmitting the virus by 96%. 

People who have HIV and who continually take their medication can expect to live as long as people who don’t have HIV.

Despite this, talk around the condition remains something of a taboo. It’s illegal to discriminate against someone solely because of their HIV status and there is no law in Ireland which says that a person must disclose their HIV status either. It is a personal choice rather than a legal obligation. 

A HIV diagnosis can have a huge impact on someone so it’s important to know the facts. Be aware that myths about HIV and AIDS do exist and if you’re unsure or concerned about HIV, contact your GP or local STI clinic.

Would you like to read more on general health? Click here for more articles from Vhi.