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Partnership Against AIDS Declaration
On 9 October 1998 the Partnership Against HIV and AIDS was launched with the publishing of this decleration. Read More...

HIV/AIDS: What you need to know
What is the difference between HIV and AIDS? What are the symptoms? How is it transmitted? Read more...

Living with HIV/AIDS
Thanks to recent medical breakthroughs HIV and AIDS has become a very manageable, treatable disease. Read more...

HIV/AIDS: What you need to know

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

An HIV-positive person receives an AIDS diagnosis after developing one of the CDC-defined AIDS indicator illnesses. An HIV-positive person can also receive an AIDS diagnosis on the basis of certain blood tests (CD4 counts) and may not have experienced any serious illnesses. A positive HIV test does not mean that a person has AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS is made by a physician according to the CDC AIDS Case Definition.

Over time, infection with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) can weaken the immune system to the point that the system has difficulty fighting off certain infections. These types of infections are known as opportunistic infections. Many of the infections that cause problems or that can be life-threatening for people with AIDS are usually controlled by a healthy immune system. The immune system of a person with AIDS has weakened to the point that medical intervention may be necessary to prevent or treat serious illness.

 

How long does it take for HIV to cause AIDS?

Currently, the average time between HIV infection and the appearance of signs that could lead to an AIDS diagnosis is 8-11 years. This time varies greatly from person to person and can depend on many factors including a person's health status and behaviors. Today there are medical treatments that can slow down the rate at which HIV weakens the immune system. There are other treatments that can prevent or cure some of the illnesses associated with AIDS. As with other diseases, early detection offers more options for treatment and preventative health care.


What are the Symptoms of HIV?

Primary HIV infection is the first stage of HIV disease, when the virus first establishes itself in the body. Some researchers use the term acute HIV infection to describe the period of time between when a person is first infected with HIV and when antibodies against the virus are produced by the body (usually 6- 12 weeks).

Some people newly infected with HIV will experience some flu-lik¯ symptoms. These symptoms, which usually last no more than a few days, might include fevers, chills, night sweats and rashes (not cold-like symptoms). Other people either do not experience acute infection,¯ or have symptoms so mild that they may not notice them.

Given the general character of the symptoms of acute infection, they can easily have causes other than HIV, such as a flu infection. For example, if you had some risk for HIV a few days ago and are now experiencing flu-like symptoms, it might be possible that HIV is responsible for the symptoms, but it is also possible that you have some other viral infection.

 

What are the Symptoms of AIDS?

There are no common symptoms for individuals diagnosed with AIDS. When immune system damage is more severe, people may experience opportunistic infections (called opportunistic because they are caused by organisms which cannot induce disease in people with normal immune systems, but take the opportunity¯ to flourish in people with HIV). Most of these more severe infections, diseases and symptoms fall under the Centers for Disease Control's definition of full-blown AIDS.¯ The median time to receive an AIDS diagnosis among those infected with HIV is 7-10 years.

 

How is HIV Transmitted?

HIV can be transmitted from an infected person to another through:

Blood (including menstrual blood)
Semen
Vaginal secretions
Breast milk
Blood contains the highest concentration of the virus, followed by semen, followed by vaginal fluids, followed by breast milk.

* Activities That Allow HIV Transmission

Unprotected sexual contact
Direct blood contact, including injection drug needles, blood transfusions, accidents in health care settings or certain blood products
Mother to baby (before or during birth, or through breast milk)
Sexual intercourse (vaginal and anal): In the genitals and the rectum, HIV may infect the mucous membranes directly or enter through cuts and sores caused during intercourse (many of which would be unnoticed). Vaginal and anal intercourse is a high-risk practice.

Oral sex (mouth-penis, mouth-vagina): The mouth is an inhospitable environment for HIV (in semen, vaginal fluid or blood), meaning the risk of HIV transmission through the throat, gums, and oral membranes is lower than through vaginal or anal membranes. There are however, documented cases where HIV was transmitted orally, so we can't say that getting HIV-infected semen, vaginal fluid or blood in the mouth is without risk. However, oral sex is considered a low risk practice.

Sharing injection needles: An injection needle can pass blood directly from one person's bloodstream to another. It is a very efficient way to transmit a blood-borne virus. Sharing needles is considered a high-risk practice.

Mother to Child: It is possible for an HIV-infected mother to pass the virus directly before or during birth, or through breast milk. Breast milk contains HIV, and while small amounts of breast milk do not pose significant threat of infection to adults, it is a viable means of transmission to infants.

The following bodily fluids¯ are NOT infectious:

Saliva
Tears
Sweat
Feces
Urine


How long after a possible exposure should I be tested for HIV?

The time it takes for a person who has been infected with HIV to seroconvert (test positive) for HIV antibodies is commonly called the Window Period.¯

The California Office of AIDS, published in 1998, says about the window period: When a person is infected with the HIV virus, statistics show that 95-97% (perhaps higher) of all infected individuals develop antibodies within 12 weeks (3-months).¯

The National CDC has said that in some rare cases, it may take up to six months for one to seroconvert (test positive). At this point the results would be 99.9% accurate.

* What does this mean for you?

The three-month window period is normal for approximately 95% of the population. If you feel any anxiety about relying on the 3-month result, by all means you should have another test at 6 months.

 

Where can I get tested for HIV infection?

Many places provide testing for HIV infection. It is important to seek testing at a location that also provides counseling about HIV and AIDS. Common locations include local health departments, private physicians, hospitals, and test sites specifically set up for HIV testing.

 

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