Everything you need to know about AIDS
Every year since 1988, the world commemorates December 1st as World HIV/AIDS Day. This sickness has taken the life of many people since its discovery in 1981. Its cure is still unknown, although doctors and researchers work everyday to overcome it.
According to the UN, during 2016 36.7 million people were living with HIV. Every year the number of new HIV cases decreases, but the epidemic is real. Between the 80s and 2019, this disease caused an estimated 35 million deaths worldwide. This pandemic disease is more common in sub-Saharan Africa, but it has spread through all the world and is actively spreading everyday.
If we want to end HIV/AIDS, we need to tear down the misconceptions that surround it. That’s why our English-speaking doctors have told us everything you need to know about HIV/AIDS in 2019:
What is HIV?
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is an infection that attacks the blood cells that fight against diseases in the human body. This makes a person more vulnerable to other infections, weakening the body immune system. HIV spreads by contact with certain bodily fluids, usually through unprotected sex, sharing injection equipments, blood transfusion and breast-feeding. You cannot get HIV or AIDS by getting in contact with other kinds of bodily fluids such as sweat or saliva, unless these are contaminated with blood.
HIV attacks the T-helper cells, a kind of white blood cells in the immune system. The virus creates copies of itself inside these cells, gradually weakening a person’s immune system. This is the reason why HIV is so letal: with a weakened immune system the body cannot defend itself against other diseases, even if these may be a small flu or something more severe.
If you get infected with HIV, you can take antiretroviral treatment to help your body fight infections and diseases. If untreated, the virus will develop gradually and severely damage the immune system, turning into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). It usually takes 10 to 15 years for the system to be useless against diseases.
Common symptoms of an HIV infection
As in any infection, the body responds quickly to it and shows signs of contracting something. Within the following weeks after the infection, HIV positives can experience flu-like illnesses, such as:
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth ulcers
After this first reaction, a person who has been infected with HIV might not experience any more symptoms. This is why it’s so important to do routine checkups and blood tests on HIV in order to discover the illness as fast as you can.
It is very important that you check on these symptoms if you were exposed to a situation where you might have been infected. Early diagnosis is key to help the body fight against HIV. People who discover they’ve been infected earlier are more capable of living a normal life with HIV through the proper antiretroviral treatment.
What is AIDS?
AIDS is the late stage of HIV. A person has AIDS when the immune system is already too weak to fight off any disease. When untreated, AIDS leads to death.
Nowadays fewer people develop AIDS because more people get antiretroviral treatment for HIV that delays the development of the disease.
Symptoms of AIDS
As it happens with HIV, common symptoms of developing AIDS are usually confused with other disorders. When the disease has reached its final stage, you might experience:
- Rapid weight loss
- Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
- Extreme and unexplained tiredness
- Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
- Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
- Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
- Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders
What can you do to avoid getting HIV/AIDS?
- Know the facts: Knowledge is power! Make sure you know everything you need to know about HIV/AIDS and other sexual transmission diseases before you need it. Inform yourself and stay alert on symptoms and ways to avoid getting this disease.
- Always use a condom, always. Even if you have a monogamous sex partner, it is always important for your own health to get protection against STDs, specially AIDS. A condom is always a good idea when it comes to casual sexual intercourse but it is also a great idea in more stable relationships. You never know!
- Get routine blood tests. Make sure you and your partner always get blood tests from time to time or everytime you think you might have been infected. This will help to detect earlier if you get an HIV infection, the most important step towards living a normal life with HIV/AIDS.
- Don’t ever share medical equipment. Medical or hygiene equipment that has been in contact with infected blood can infect you as well. So avoid sharing anything that might have been in contact with it: razorblades, needles, etcetera.
- If you’re pregnant, go to the doctor. HIV infection can be passed from mother to child. If you receive treatment, the risk of getting infected is fewer. In order to keep track of your baby’s health, please go to a doctor if you’re pregnant and get a blood test to dismiss any chance of getting HIV and infecting your baby.
If you need a blood test, are feeling sick or may have been in a situation where you could get infected, please call a doctor as soon as possible. Our English speaking doctors in Barcelona are always ready to help you clear any doubts about AIDS and other sexual transmission diseases!