December is HIV/AIDS Awareness Month – Knowledge is the best way to prevent HIV/AIDS, so read for more information!

AIDS or Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome is caused by a virus called HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus). AIDS is associated with a progressive failure of the immune system which allows life-threatening infections and cancer to invade the body.

How does AIDS spread?

HIV infection can occur by the transfer of blood, semen, vaginal fluid or breast milk. Hence, bodily fluids are the main way by which HIV infection can spread. This is because the HIV virus can be present as both free virus particles as well as virus within cells.

Ways to diagnose HIV/AIDS

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that HIV screening should be part of one’s medical check-up, just to make sure you are healthy. Meanwhile, individuals that are at risk are advised to get tested for HIV/AIDS infection once a year; pregnant women are advised to get tested for HIV/AIDS during the course of each pregnancy.

The following are considered ‘at risk’ populations:

  • Individuals who share needles/syringes or other equipment for injecting drugs
  • Individuals with a history of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Individuals who have had unprotected sex (vaginal, anal or oral) with multiple partners
  • Individuals who have had unprotected sex with a partner who did not know their own HIV status.

Testing for HIV/AIDS infection is relatively easy, and can be done using mouth swab, urine or blood sample. The virus (HIV) is called an antigen, and in order to fight it, the body produces antibodies against the antigen. Hence, HIV/AIDS testing could entail detection of the antibody or of the antigen.

Antibody tests

Oraquick

Swab test for HIV
Photo credit : wikimedia commons

These tests use blood, oral fluid or urine to detect antibodies to HIV. The results can be obtained anywhere from 10-20 minutes to two weeks. If the antibody test turns up positive, another test is needed to confirm the results. This test is called the Western blot test and takes up to two weeks to get a confirmed result.

Antigen tests

These tests require a blood sample, and can detect HIV infection earlier – from 1 to 3 weeks after infection with HIV. This test is done by a technique known as the Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

Preventing HIV/AIDS

The most effective way of preventing HIV/AIDS is to not engage in risky behavior. This includes the following:

  • Limiting the number of partners and avoiding sex with people whose sexual history is unknown.
  • Using condoms properly from start to finish when having sex.
  • Refraining from sharing needles with others.
  • Using clean needles
  • Purchasing new, sterile needles from pharmacies
  • (For pregnant women to decrease the risk of passing HIV to their unborn child) receiving appropriate medical care and taking prescribed medications.

Treating HIV/AIDS

Symptoms of HIV/AIDS include the occurrence of infections that are not observed in normal individuals. These infections can be pulmonary, gastrointestinal or neurological. Hence, the treatment of HIV/AIDS consists of keeping these infections at bay. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. The frontline of treatment consists of drugs called antiretroviral therapy (ART) – this consists of a combination of drugs that limit the HIV infection.

HIV medication consists of a variety of ARTs – these drugs attack the virus at a different stage in its life cycle, so it is important to adhere to the regimen and take all prescribed drugs religiously. One problem in treatment of HIV/AIDS is that of drug resistance – this happens when the virus replicates and makes copies of itself that do not respond to the drug the same way they used to. Following the 3-drug regimen is one way to stop drug resistance from taking place.

In addition, one should eat a nutritious diet, get plenty of rest and exercise and refrain from alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse, and get regular health check-ups.

AMPHS and HIV/AIDS

AMPHS clinical volunteers at past screening.

AMPHS clinical volunteers at past screening.

Over the last three years, AMPHS has mobilized forces to provide the Brooklyn community with HIV/AIDS testing during its monthly health events, partnering with organizations such as Interfaith Medical Center, Turning Point Outreach Center, and Latino Commission on AIDS. Because December is HIV/AIDS Awareness Month, annual HIV/AIDS testing and education services during its in-house screenings during the month of December. This year, AMPHS will be offering in-house screenings on Saturday, December 14th between 11am and 5pm. Appointments are preferred; walk-ins are welcome. To make an appointment, please call (212) 256-9036.

Since there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, the most effective way to prevent infection and spread of HIV/AIDS is education. For more information about HIV/AIDS, visit:

http://www.who.int/hiv/topics/en/

http://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/just-diagnosed-with-hiv-aids/treatment-options/overview-of-hiv-treatments/

http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/

http://www.latinoaids.org/

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