World AIDS Day is December 1st – that’s today! – and MyStudentBody is committed to helping college students and higher education professionals get the information they need about HIV/AIDS so they can make healthy decisions or help others make healthy decisions. Get all the info you need about HIV/AIDS below and PLEASE get tested! Knowing your status is the first step in protecting yourself and others.
What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV types 1 and 2 are the viruses that cause AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and are transmitted primarily by exchange of body fluids during sexual contact (blood, semen, vaginal secretions). Transmission can also occur through exposure to infected blood (e.g., sharing of needles), or to babies during the birthing process or by way of breast milk. HIV attacks, infects, and takes over the body’s immune cells (called CD4). The infected cell then makes new HIV that continues to infect more and more immune cells. In this way, HIV slowly breaks down the immune system, which allows various infections and cancers to occur.
The progression of the illness is different among infected people. The development of AIDS symptoms (a breakdown of the body’s immune system) varies from months to years, with an average of 10 years. A cure or vaccine does not yet exist. Where appropriate health care is available, the progression of HIV can be slowed down with antiviral medications.
How common is it?
Thirty million people worldwide are infected with HIV, and the numbers are growing. An estimated 800,000 people are infected in the US, and 450,000 have died from AIDS complications. As of 2000, there were over 31,000 people between 13-24 with AIDS in the US. About 1 in 500 college students is estimated to have HIV. Of the 40,000 new HIV cases in the US every year, about 50 percent of them are people under the age of 25.
What are the symptoms?
- Many people don’t have overt symptoms
- 30-70% of newly infected people experience flu-like symptoms within 2-6 weeks
- Lymph node enlargement
- Constant or rapid unexplained weight loss, diarrhea, loss of appetite, dry cough, lightheadedness, headaches
- Thick, whitish coating of yeast on the tongue or mouth (thrush)
- Red, brown, pink or purple blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose or eyelids
- More severe or recurrent yeast infections (women), or more severe or recurrent herpes, or molluscum infections
- Chronic pelvic inflammatory disease (women)
How is it spread?
Highest risk of transmission is by vaginal and anal sex, sharing of drug needles, contaminated blood products, or from mother to infant. There is some risk of HIV transmission by oral sex.
How is it diagnosed?
There are many tests now that screen for HIV and include antibody and other immunological marker tests. Most tests are blood tests, but an oral saliva test is now being offered in some places. A healthcare provider or staff member of an STD clinic can help explain the tests and their results. Anonymous home testing kits are just as accurate as testing done in a clinic as long as you do them correctly. These kits offer 800 numbers to speak with round-the-clock counselors. A diagnosis of AIDS is based on the presence of at least one of a list of clinical infections, a drop in CD4 cell count below 200, or both.
How is it treated?
There is no cure for HIV, although scientists are working toward a vaccine and increasingly more effective medications. Currently, HIV can be managed by combinations of drugs that may include protease inhibitors and older antiviral drugs, such as AZT. Early diagnosis and the timing of treatments are important.
How do I protect myself?
- Know your HIV status – get tested
- Get tested for other STDs that can increase vulnerability to HIV transmission and exacerbate HIV symptoms (e.g., gonorrhea, herpes)
- Use condoms consistently and correctly
- If you choose to use IV drugs, don’t share needles
- If you get tattoos or other body art, make sure the artists use clean equipment
- Be aware that HIV tests can often result in false negative results (results come out negative when status is actually positive)
- If you get a negative result, get tested again after 6 months to be sure – it can take that long for HIV to show up on a test
National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control, Division of Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
Tracking the Hidden Epidemics: Trends in STDs in the United States, 2000. Centers for Disease Control.
Handsfield, H. H. (2001). Color Atlas& Synopsis of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. NY; The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Marr, L. (1998). Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (1999). Dudley, W. (Ed.). San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc.