World AIDS Day

Today, December 1, is World Aids Day.

There is so much to share about AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes it, but let’s start with the basics.

First things first, our chat questions tonight will be all about World AIDS Day.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. What it does is it attacks the CD4 T cells that helps the immune system protect you.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. This happens when the amount of your CD4 T cells drop below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood OR if you have what is called an opportunistic infection.

The CDC estimates that 1.2 million people are currently living with HIV in the United States. Perhaps the scarier thing is that roughly 1 in 8 don’t even know they’re carrying the virus.

Again, according to the CDC, new infections are occurring most often in men who have sex with men (all races), African-American heterosexual women, and Latinx. Transgender people also have higher infection rates, with an average 28% infection rate in transgender women in 2008. The Southern US has the highest infection rate followed by the Northeast and Midwest.

What are ways you can be exposed to HIV?

  • Blood
  • Cum or pre-cum
  • Anal fluids
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Breast milk

In order to really be exposed, though, these fluids would need to come into contact with damaged tissue, mucous membranes, or pop right on into your bloodstream.

The only way to know if you have HIV or AIDS is to get tested, especially because symptoms include things like swollen lymph nodes, rash, fever, fatigue and other issues typical of basically every stinking disease or virus ever.

There are ways of preventing transmission of the HIV virus. Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is meant to be taken as a daily pill by those in high-risk exposure situations such as being the partner to a person with HIV/AIDS. Obviously, this is used in combination with sexual barriers like condoms as well as testing every three months or so.

There is also post-exposure prophylaxis in case of emergencies. This consists of taking antiretroviral medications as soon as possible after exposure (within 72 hours). The person has to take this medication 1-2 times daily for a month and, even then, it’s not a guarantee for preventing the virus.

yellow text on a grey-brown background: nearly 2 in 5 people don't realise HIV can be passed on through heterosexual sex' from the world aids day/ national aids trust in the uk
Courtesy of worldaidsday.org

There is a lack of education on HIV/AIDS. In the early 1990s, in my childhood, it was incredibly important to talk about HIV/AIDS. Real treatments were coming out, the AIDS quilt was constantly being expanded, and speakers came to schools to correct misconceptions about the virus. By the mid-1990s, we had things like Rent, Philadelphia, And the Band Played On, and The Cure. Angels in America came in the early 2000s and reignited conversations about the handling of the epidemic, stigmas, and the need to educate others.

Abstinence-only education only served to combat this by eliminating real conversations like ways people could protect themselves and the need to get tested. Many people, especially in the 13-24 age range, don’t realize that getting tested is something they should do.

Tests are incredibly quick, simple, and can be done with a cheek swab or a finger prick. Testing is also confidential.

Others still don’t have access to testing resources. One of the biggest problems there is the misconception highlighted by the GOP (sorry, pals) that Planned Parenthood only does abortions. In fact, they are one of the biggest testing facilities for ALL sexually transmitted infections and many forms of cancer.

yellow text on grey-brown background that says 'HIV treatment has advanced tremendously; public attitudes are lagging behind' from the National AIDS Trust from the UK
Courtesy of www.worldaidsday.org

There is a major issue with stigma. People don’t get tested, often, because they think it’s a ‘gay men’ disease. Many people still don’t understand that everyone, regardless of whom they have sex or share sexual activities with, can get HIV/AIDS. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, lesbian, bi/pansexual, transgender, queer, etc., you can still be exposed to and get HIV.

One of the biggest problems facing the HIV-positive/AIDS population is access to healthcare. Even those who can afford to see their physicians may not be able to afford the medications. After all, let’s not forget Martin Shkreli and his price-hiking of Daraprim, a drug used by HIV/AIDS patients as well as those dealing with transplants, malaria, and a type of parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis.

If you have HIV/AIDS – or are a loved one/caregiver of someone who does – here are some important links for you:

Please visit this site to find a testing location near you or talk to your doctor.

To learn more about HIV, AIDS, and treatments:

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