December is HIV/AIDS HEALTH Awareness Month

By Dr. Josh Palgi | Published Dec. 9, 2015

HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency virus. It attacks your body’s immune system. The virus destroys CD 4 cells which help your body fight diseases. HIV can severely damage your immune system and lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (AIDs). Unlike some other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV. That means once you have HIV, you have it for life. However, with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled.

HIV first appeared in the United States in the early 1980’s and since its discovery HIV/AIDS has killed more than 25 million people.

CDC estimates that 1,218,400 persons aged 13 years and older are living with HIV infection, including 156,300 (12.8%) who are unaware of their infection. Over the past decades, the number of people living with HIV has increased, while the annual number of new HIV infections has remained relatively stable. Still, the pace of new infections continues at far too high a level-particularly among certain groups.

HIV incidences (new infections): The estimated incidence of HIV has remained stable overall in recent years, at about 50,000 new HIV infections per year.

Deaths: An estimated 13,712 people with an AIDS diagnosis died in 2012, and approximately 658,507 people in the United States with an AIDS diagnosis have died overall. The deaths of the persons with an AIDS diagnosis can be due to any cause-that is, the death may or may not be related to AIDS.

According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, the majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

One tenth of HIV/AIDS sufferers are children (3.4 million) under the age of 15, with over 1,000 becoming infected every day.

Without treatment, half of all infants with HIV will die before their second birthday.

HIV is spread through contact with certain body fluid from a person infected with HIV. These body fluids include: blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluids, rectal fluid and breast milk.

The spread of HIV from person to person is called HIV transmission. The spread of HIV from an HIV-infected woman to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding is called mother –to-child transmission HIV.

HIV is not spread by air or water, insects, including mosquitos or ticks, saliva, tears, or sweat, casual contact, like shaking hands, hugging or sharing dishes/drinking glasses, drinking fountain or sharing toilet seats.


While some people may develop symptoms similar to flu within the first two or three weeks of catching the virus, others may not show symptoms for many years while the virus slowly replicates. Once the initial flu-like symptoms disappear, HIV will not show any further symptoms from many years. The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested.

The following criteria are used to determine if a person infected with HIV has AIDS: The person’s immune system is severely damaged as indicated by a CD4 count of less than 200 cells/ mm3. A CD4 count measures the number of CD4 cells in a sample of blood. The CD4 count of a healthy person ranges from 500 to 1,600 cells/ mm 3. And/ or the person has one or more opportunistic infections.

The centers for disease control and prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone 13 to 64 years old get tested for HIV at least once and that people at high risk of infection get tested more often.

Factors that increase the risk of HIV infection include: having vaginal or anal sex without using a condom with someone who is HIV positive or whose HIV status you don’t know, injecting drugs and sharing needles, syringes, or other drug equipment with others, exchanging sex for money or drugs, having a sexually transmitted disease (STD), such as syphilis, having hepatitis or tuberculosis or having sex with anyone who has any of the HIV risk factors stated.

To reduce your risk of getting HIV through sexual contact are: choose less risky sexual behavior, use condoms consistently and correctly, reduce the number of people you have sex with, get tested and treated for other sexually transmitted diseases and encourage your partner to do the same. If your partner is HIV-positive encourage your partner to get and stay on HIV treatment. You can also reduce your risk by not having sex.


The use of HIV medicine to treat HIV infection is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART involves taking a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV regimen) every day. (HIV medicines are often called antiretroviral or ARVs.)

ART prevents HIV from multiplying and reduces the level of HIV in the body. Having less HIV in the body protects the immune system and prevents HIV infection from advancing to AIDS.

ART can’t cure HIV, but it can help people infected with HIV live longer, healthier lives, ART also reduces the risk of HIV transmission.

The New York Times on Wednesday, November 2 reported that the International Health Agencies continue to lose ground in the struggle against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS: Each year the report claims the number of people who become infected outpace the number of people starting treatment for the virus. That is discouraging given that the opportunities to control the spread of the virus have never been better, scientifically and financially.

Even in the United States, where great progress has been made, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention warned that hundreds of thousands of people with diagnosed infection are not receiving drug treatment or other care and are transmitting the virus.

The long term goal is to virtually end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. A daunting task given that almost 37 million people are infected and roughly half are unaware of it.

Awareness days provides an opportunity to draw attention to the HIV epidemic around the world. Many people choose to organize an event on or around December to raise awareness of HIV, to remember loved ones who have died to show solidarity with people living with HIV, to celebrate survival and health, and raise money or HIV and related causes.

  To stop the HIV epidemic we must:

A. Prevent it

B. Test for it

C. Treat it

D. All of the above


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