AIDS 101

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AIDS 101

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Keep yourself education, keep yourself safe

Courtesy of Sister Eva Destruction

Recently the news has been all abuzz with the advances in HIV research.  I was going to direct this sermon towards that topic, but when I started perusing the internets, discussion threads and such that were dedicated to all these current events, I noticed that there is an unusually high ratio of people out there who didn’t have a basic grasp of HIV itself.

Now, I’m an old nun.  I remember when off-the-shoulder tee shirts, leg warmers, skinny jeans and HIV were all new ideas (and like poor fashion choices, poor health information can have the potential to haunt you for the rest of your life).  It seemed like my generation was constantly bombarded with fresh data all the time.  Granted, HIV was new and scary (ps. it’s still scary) so everyone was trying to understand how to handle it.  These days, we sometimes make the mistake of assuming that everyone has heard the same messages, so rather than have a long discussion about the subtleties of this virus, let’s take a review of the basics.

HIV is a virus, that’s the ‘V’ part.  The long name is Human Immunodeficiency Virus, meaning it causes a problem with a person’s immune system.  HIV is not AIDS.  AIDS is, ready?:  Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or a set of health problems that have come about because of an immune system weakened by HIV.  Think of it like this; not everyone who has tested positive for HIV has AIDS, but everyone who has AIDS is HIV positive.  Being virus-based, you can break down the change from HIV negative to AIDS in four steps:  Exposure, Infection, Development, and, well let’s just call the last step “AIDS” (some people want to put the term ‘full blown’ in front to heighten the drama, but, really that makes about as much sense as being ‘a little pregnant’).

Like pretty much anything in life, if you don’t want it, don’t get near it.  I promise that little gem of advice is 100% effective for all things.  Reality, however, tends to complicate this rule.  Viruses like people, and to a lesser extent, people like people.  So in all likelihood at some point you will have to come into contact with, or be exposed to, someone who could have a virus.  We’re aware how colds and the Flu get around, so we take precautions, like washing our hands and wearing silly paper masks to limit our exposure, likewise, understanding how HIV is spread can help you limit your exposure to that virus.

HIV is found in some bodily fluids; blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk, so you want to be careful around those.  HIV is not found in spit, tears, sweat, pee or poop, so have a field day there.  The best way of avoiding these fluids would be to not have sex, not share anything that has another person’s blood on it (needles, syringes, vendettas) or not breastfeeding from someone who has HIV.  If you can’t avoid sex, I know spirit = willing, flesh = weak, be with only one partner, who isn’t HIV positive.  If that’s not on your agenda, then at least use some sort of barrier like a condom or dental dam.  Still too much to ask?  Really?  Then try talking to your next conquest about their status and take your chances.  You never know, they could be liars only after your hot, hot body, or they may not know their own HIV status.  As for needles and syringes, make sure you only use sterile equipment, and never, never share your gear, and as an aside, if you can take that much consideration to your own welfare, perhaps you might want to consider some sort of counseling for your drug use?  I’m just sayin’…

But what if, gods forbid, that nothing has sunk in to this point and you’ve been exposed to HIV?  You still need to contract the virus, Step 2; Infection.  You’ve contracted a virus when it has begun reproducing itself in your body.  At this point the body starts to fight the virus by producing antibodies.  Remember that time everyone around you had the cold but you didn’t get it?  Chances are you were exposed, but for some reason you didn’t “catch” it, same applies here. (This doesn’t mean that the odds are in your favor, it’s just to give you some perspective, so you don’t freak out every time someone shoots in your eye.)  Most people may feel nothing more than Flu-like symptoms for several days.  But just because you may not feel sick that doesn’t mean you haven’t been infected, that’s why it’s so important to get tested at least every six months, if you’ve been in a risky situation.

Now let’s say that your test came back and you’re HIV positive.  The third step is the development of the infection.  The medical community splits this one up into two parts, asymptomatic and symptomatic – you are or aren’t showing symptoms.  At first, you won’t show symptoms, and look perfectly healthy.  You can still pass it along the ways I mentioned earlier, this isn’t the time to start slacking on your common sense.  Actually, it’s time to be even more careful, your immune system isn’t at 100% anymore, so why would you want to try to fight a 1-2 combo of HIV and Syphilis? But I digress… Many people stay asymptomatic for several years, and the earlier HIV can be detected, the better chance for an improved quality of life.  At some point though, the disease will move into the symptomatic stage.

Symptoms begin to show when the virus has weakened the immune system – your boat has begun to leak.  You may feel more tired than usual, have night sweats, skin rashes, or slight weight loss.  Normally, a healthy body can keep up with all of these, but your immune system is starting to miss a few of these germies.  As this stage progresses, infections and fevers will become more frequent, the weight loss will be more drastic, and diarrhea will make a new place in you life.  Can you see why it’s real important to get medical treatment before symptoms start to show?

Finally, the last stage is AIDS itself.  Call it “Late Stage HIV”, “Full-blown” or whatever, this is the point where your body can’t protect itself and what are called ‘opportunistic infections’ take hold.  These buggers, like rare pneumonias and skin lesions, take advantage of the weak immune system and can be really nasty.  AIDS, however is not an automatic death sentence, there are many therapies that can help the body fight the infections as well as target HIV.  Even having HIV does not necessarily mean you will develop AIDS.  Again, all four steps have to happen; Exposure > Infection > Development > AIDS.  Granted, people who do not get medical attention are going to be on the losing side of the battle, but early detection and treatment is allowing people to live healthy lives for decades.

So let’s recap in no particular order:

  • Limit your contact with someone else’s body fluids
  • Ask your partner(s) if they know their status.
  • Know your status, get tested.
  • Early detection and treatment.
  • Donate to the Sisters (why not throw a plug in there?)

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And remember, this is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe any medical information. Go see your doctor for that…