Purpose of this FAQ

This document provides answers to questions that are commonly asked regarding HIV and AIDS. Please visit www.aids.org  or  www.avert.org  for more information on Basic facts about HIV

What is AIDS? What causes AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. An HIV-positive person receives an AIDS diagnosis after developing one of the CDC-defined AIDS indicator illnesses. An HIV-positive person can also receive an AIDS diagnosis on the basis of certain blood tests (CD4 counts) and may not have experienced any serious illnesses. A positive HIV test does not mean that a person has AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS is made by a physician according to the CDC AIDS Case Definition. Over time, infection with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) can weaken the immune system to the point that the system has difficulty fighting off certain infections. These types of infections are known as opportunistic infections. Many of the infections that cause problems or that can be life-threatening for people with AIDS are usually controlled by a healthy immune system. The immune system of a person with AIDS has weakened to the point that medical intervention may be necessary to prevent or treat serious illness.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for: Human Immunodeficiency Virus HIV is a virus. Viruses such as HIV cannot grow or reproduce on their own, they need to infect the cells of a living organism in order to replicate (make new copies of themselves). The human immune system usually finds and kills viruses fairly quickly, but HIV attacks the immune system itself - the very thing that would normally get rid of a virus.With around 2.5 million people becoming infected with HIV in 2011, there are now an estimated 34 million people around the world who are living with HIV, including millions who have developed AIDS.

What is the connection between HIV & AIDS

The condition that is referred to as AIDS is caused by HIV damaging the immune system cells until the immune system can no longer fight off other infections that it would usually be able to prevent.If left untreated, it takes around ten years on average for someone with HIV to develop AIDS. However, this average is based on the person with HIV having a reasonable diet, and someone who is malnourished may well progress from HIV to AIDS more rapidly

How is HIV treated?

Antiretroviral drugs keep the levels of HIV in the body at a low level, so that the immune system is able to recover and work effectively. Antiretroviral drugs enable many HIV positive people to live long and healthy lives. Starting antiretroviral treatment for HIV infection involves commitment - drugs have to be taken every day, and for the rest of a person's life. Adhering to HIV treatment is important, particularly because not doing so increases the risk of drug resistance. Side effects to the HIV drugs can make adherence difficult, and are sometimes very severe. There are ways of reducing the impact of these side effects, but sometimes it is necessary to change to an alternative HIV treatment regime.There are more than 20 antiretroviral drugs approved for the treatment of HIV infection in the US and Europe, as well as many new HIV drugs currently undergoing trials. Although treatment for HIV has become more widely available in recent years, access to antiretroviral treatment is limited.

How is HIV passed on?

HIV is found in the blood and the sexual fluids of an infected person, and in the breast milk of an infected woman.  HIV transmission occurs when a sufficient quantity of these fluids get into someone else's bloodstream.

There are various ways a person can become infected with HIV:

  • Unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person: 
  • Sexual intercourse without a condom carries the risk of HIV infection.
  • Contact with an infected person's blood: If sufficient blood from somebody who has HIV enters someone else's body, then HIV can be passed on in the blood.Use of infected blood products: Many people in the past have been infected with HIV by the use of blood transfusions and blood products which were contaminated with the virus. In much of the world this is no longer a significant risk, as blood donations are routinely tested for HIV.Injecting drugs:
  •  HIV can be passed on when injecting equipment that has been used by an infected person is then used by someone else. In many parts of the world, often because it is illegal to possess them, injecting equipment or works are shared.
  • From mother to child: HIV can be transmitted from an infected woman to her baby during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding.Certain groups of people, such as injecting drug users, sex workers, prisoners, and men who have sex with men have been particularly affected by HIV. However, HIV can infect anybody, and everyone needs to know how they can and can't become infected with HIV.

How can HIV be prevented?

Despite considerable investment and research, there is currently no HIV and AIDS vaccine, and microbicides (designed to prevent HIV being passed on during sex) are still undergoing trials. However, there are other ways that people can protect themselves from HIV infection, which are the basis of HIV prevention efforts around the world.Education about HIV and how it is spread is an essential part of HIV prevention. HIV education needs to be culturally appropriate and can take place in various settings, for example lessons at school, media campaigns, or peer education.Preventing sexual transmission of HIV. If a person has sexual intercourse with someone who has HIV they can become infected. ‘Safer sex’ refers to things that a person can do to minimize their risk of HIV infection during sexual intercourse; most importantly, using condoms consistently and correctly.A person can be certain that they are protected against HIV infection by choosing not to have sex at all, or by only doing things that do not involve any blood or sexual fluid from one person getting into another person's body. This kind of sexual activity is the only thing that can be considered ‘safe sex’. Effective sex education is important for providing young people with the knowledge and skills to protect themselves from sexual transmission of HIV. Comprehensive sex education should develop skills and attitudes that encourage healthy sexual relationships, as well as provide detailed information about how to practice ‘safer sex’.

First FAQ QUestion

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