Knowledge is power. Learn basic facts about HIV, including how it spreads, how to protect yourself, and how to live an active and full life in the event of a positive test result.
It is not uncommon to be a little nervous about taking any medical test.
What is HIV?
HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. HIV affects the immune system, in particular T-Cells or CD4 cells which fight infection. Simply put, the virus destroys T-cells, which leads to the fact that the immune system of a person with untreated HIV infection is not able to fight diseases and infections.
What is AIDS?
AIDS is the acquired immune deficiency syndrome. AIDS is caused by HIV and is a late stage of infection. A person can live many years with the human immunodeficiency virus without experiencing any symptoms.
When under the influence of HIVa large amount of T-cells have been destroyed, the human body loses the ability to fight infection and disease, and a person can be diagnosed with AIDS.
How is HIV transmitted?
It is transmitted through the following bodily fluids:
- Pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum)
- Breast milk
- Vaginal and anal fluids
When you have sex with an HIV-positive person (person infected with HIV) the virus can enter your system through your vagina, anus, penis, or – rarely – small tears in your mouth. Damage in the mucous membranes and skin caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as herpes, syphilis, or gonorrhea, greatly increases the risk of HIV entering your system.
If you are an injection drug-user, HIV can be transmitted when your blood comes into contact with another person’s blood when sharing syringes and needles.
HIV can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy or through breast milk.
In rare cases, healthcare workers, police workers, and rescuers may have the risk of getting infected when coming into contact with blood. Effective screening has made HIV infection via blood transfusion or organ donation extremely rare.
HIV is not transmitted through the following bodily fluids:
- Nasal fluid
How can you prevent infection?
There is no cure or vaccine with the help of which it would be possible to cure HIV. However, HIV is treatable and preventable.
Here’s how you can minimize the risk of infection:
- Use condoms. If you are a sexually active person, always use a condom during vaginal and anal intercourse. Condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV transmission.
- Use clean syringes. If you inject drugs, use new sterile syringes.
- Discuss sexual life. If you know HIV status of your partner or partners, you will be able to take steps to timely find decisions to prevent HIV transmission. About 50 % of infected people in Ukraine do not know their HIV status.
- Get tested for HIV together with your partner.
- Have sober sex. If you are exposed to substances that distort your mind (alcohol or drugs), you are less inclined to practice safe sex and use condoms. If you feel that you have problems with alcohol or drugs, seek help.
- Get tested for other STDs. Sexually-transmitted diseases (STD) – such as Chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea, or syphilis – increase the risk of getting infected with HIV. In case of many STDs, there are no obvious symptoms.
- Avoid accidental sexual contacts and/or reduce the number of sexual partners. If you have fewer sexual partners, the risk of contracting HIV or other STDs will be lower.
Many people with HIV do not experience any symptoms until the late stages of the disease. In fact, the virus can live in your system for as many as 10 years – or even more – without causing any obvious symptoms. Extreme fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever, and wasting syndrome can be some of the symptoms experienced at the late stages – when the disease has already progressed. These symptoms are most often caused by opportunistic infections which a weakened immune system has been unable to fight off.
In the first 2 weeks to 30 days after infection – when higher levels of the virus are in a person’s system and such a person is most infectious (or, able to pass the virus to other people) – some may experience severe flu-like symptoms. It’s important to remember that not everyone who gets infected experiences these symptoms.
What happens if you are HIV-positive?
Even though HIV infection is a serious disease, it is important to remember that it is very treatable. Many people with HIV live long, active, and productive lives. HIV is no longer a “death sentence”. Since 1995, there has been medication known as anti-retroviral therapy, which helps effectively combat this disease. In fact, the therapy is so effective that those who regularly and consistently take their medications do not even have a detectable level of virus in their system.
If you have an HIV-positive status, you can get the necessary medical and psychological help.
HIV-infection treatment in Ukraine is free of charge and is provided in specialized health care facilities in every region of the country.