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HIV/AIDS plagues word year-round
Health advice
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Yesterday was World AIDS Day and the theme was “HIV: Reality.”
Americans need to think about HIV and AIDS issues every day, however, because they don’t disappear when World AIDS Day is over. The estimated number of people living with HIV in the world is more than 33 million.
Experts say culturally ingrained gender inequality is contributing to the spread of AIDS among females. Slavery, prostitution, lack of equal rights or control of their economic, social and sexual lives all play roles in contributing to women’s struggles with HIV and AIDS.
HIV is one of the biggest social, economic and health challenges in the world. It’s a global emergency claiming more than 8,000 lives a day. Five people die of AIDS every minute. According to the United Nations, at the end of every day last year, 14,000 more people learned they had HIV.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to one million U.S. residents are living with HIV and, according to the National Institutes of Health, about one-fourth of those do not even know they have the virus. The NIH also estimates that approximately 40,000 new HIV infections occur each year in the United States and of these, approximately half of the carriers are under age 25.
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. This is the virus known to cause AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome. If someone is HIV-positive, it means they have been infected with the virus. A person infected with HIV does not have AIDS until the virus seriously damages their immune system, making them vulnerable to a range of infections, some of which can lead to death.
HIV is transmitted through body fluids in blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. In fact, there are only four ways you can become HIV positive:
• Sex: Whatever your sexuality, if you have sex with someone who has HIV and you don’t use a condom, you can become infected with HIV. Oral sex without a condom carries a risk of HIV and other infections.
• Sharing needles: If you share needles or other drug-injecting equipment that contains traces of HIV infected blood, you can become infected with HIV.
• Mother to baby: If a pregnant woman has HIV, she can pass it on to her child in three ways: during pregnancy, during birth or through breastfeeding. There are proven steps mothers can take to reduce the possibility of their unborn child contracting HIV.
• Infected blood: You can become infected with HIV by receiving infected blood, blood products or donated organs as part of medical treatment. In the United States, the chances of this happening are remote because all blood, blood products and donated organs are screened for HIV and infected materials are destroyed.
You cannot get HIV by kissing, shaking hands, touching, coughing or sneezing. Nor can you get it from insect or animal bites, from sharing food or toilet seats, or from being in a swimming pool with a person who has HIV.
Although researchers are working to create one, there is not currently a vaccine against HIV. The only protection we have is through our own actions: using condoms, not sharing needles, screening blood transfusions and, in the case of expectant mothers with HIV, reducing the risk to the fetus by taking anti-HIV drugs, choosing a caesarean birth and bottle feeding instead of breast feeding.
There are simple tests for HIV. They look for antibodies produced by the immune system in response to HIV that has entered the body. Concerned people may decide on several options — a test that checks blood or one that requires a swab of cells from inside the mouth.
It normally takes up to three months for HIV antibodies to show up in the body, so to get a reliable result and peace of mind, you need to wait three months from the time you think you may have been exposed to HIV.
This month, remember that to date more than 20 million lives have been lost to HIV/AIDS. Let’s make every effort to avoid risk factors.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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