New Delhi: The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a deadly virus that attacks the immune system, weakening people’s defence system against infections and diseases. Left untreated, the infection can progress to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS, the most advanced stage of HIV. Meanwhile, a report found the Northeastern state of Mizoram, with nine cases a day, has recorded the highest prevalence rate of HIV in the country.
Latest figures revealed by the Mizoram State AIDS Control Society (MSACS) showed that the state witnessed nine new HIV positive cases every day at the Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre (ICTCs) against 25 working days in a month. As per the MSACS data, about 67.21 per cent of the HIV positive cases from 2006 to March 2019 were transmitted sexually, whereas 28.16 per cent of the transmission was caused by the use of unsterilized/ infected needles and syringes. While parent-to-child transmission contributed to 2.96 per cent, homosexual transmission caused 1.03 per cent of cases.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), HIV has continued to be a major public health issue worldwide, claiming more than 32 million lives so far. In 2018, there were 7,70,000 deaths across the world due to HIV-related causes. The WHO data also showed that approximately 37.9 million people in the world were living with HIV at the end of 2018 with 1.7 million people becoming newly infected in the same year. In this article, let us take a look at how HIV is transmitted and what can be done to prevent this deadly disease.How is HIV transmitted?
HIV can be transmitted or spread by contact with certain bodily fluids of infected individuals - such as blood, breast milk, semen, vaginal and rectal fluids. The HIV virus doesn’t spread in the air or water, or through ordinary contact such as shaking hands, hugging, sharing food or water, etc.
Most people become infected with HIV by having unprotected sex with someone who has the virus. Sharing needles and syringes with someone who is infected with HIV is another common way of getting the infection.
Other risk factors include:
- Receiving unsafe injections, blood transfusions, tissue transplantation, and other medical procedures that involve unsterile cutting or piercing.
- An HIV positive woman might transfer the disease to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.
Depending on the stage of infection, the symptoms of HIV may vary, ranging from mild to severe. The symptoms may come and go, and may last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. However, some people with the HIV virus may not show symptoms for a long time.
Early signs and symptoms of HIV may include the following:
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
- Skin rash
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Upset stomach
As the infection progresses, weakening the immune system, an infected individual may experience weight loss, diarrhoea, and cough, etc. Without prompt treatment, these symptoms can lead to a number of severe illnesses, including tuberculosis, certain types of cancer, and severe bacterial infections, etc.How is HIV treated?
HIV is a lifelong condition that has no cure for it. However, receiving proper treatments can help stop the progression of the disease, enabling most people with HIV to live a long and relatively healthy life. As per the WHO, starting ART - consisting of three or more ARV drugs - early can help suppress the HIV virus and improve the quality of life, while also extending life expectancy and reducing the risk of transmission.
Preventing HIV and AIDS
In the absence of a safe and effective vaccine to prevent HIV transmission, being aware of the disease and taking certain precautionary measures that can help stop the spread of the virus are the best things you could do for your health.
- Safer sex: Correct and consistent use of condoms during vaginal/anal penetration can offer protection against the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. The only sure way to prevent HIV is avoiding sex entirely, however, evidence suggests that male latex condoms have an 85 per cent or greater protective effect against HIV and STIs.
- Not sharing needles or other drug equipment as doing so can expose users to HIV and other viruses like Hepatitis C.
- People who have been exposed to HIV should consult their healthcare provider about obtaining post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP, which can reduce the risk of contracting HIV. WHO recommends PEP use for both occupational and non-occupational exposures and for adults and children - within 72 hours of exposure to the HIV virus. PEP is a short course of antiretroviral treatment given to help prevent infection after potential HIV exposure.
- As part of a combination of prevention approaches, the WHO recommends pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) use for people at a high risk of HIV infection. It is claimed that PrEP, if used consistently, can reduce the risk of getting HIV.
Additionally, people concerned about the risk of HIV should get themselves tested for HIV/other STIs and take medications if required, as directed by their physicians. Taking steps to protect yourself from becoming infected with HIV is the best way to prevent this deadly disease.
Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purposes only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a professional healthcare provider if you have any specific questions about any medical matter.