AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a condition caused by a virus called HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). It is a condition which is frowned upon within our community and the sufferer may be judged and isolated from their social circle. It is important to understand what the condition is, and how it is spread so that we do not become judgemental towards those who are already dealing with such a debilitating condition. AIDS directly affects the immune system – it makes the sufferer weak and prone to acquiring diseases easily. The vulnerability increases as the condition progresses. AIDS and its cause, HIV, were first identified and recognized in the early 1980s. It is important to differentiate between the virus, a carrier of the virus and a person with the disease.
HIV is the virus – people with HIV have the infection which is called ‘HIV infection’. These people who have the HIV virus may then develop the disease, which is called AIDS. Some HIV carriers may never develop the disease regardless of being infected with the virus. They can live a long and relatively healthy life. AIDS itself is not an illness which kills; it is the development of numerous opportunistic infections in an AIDS patient which can ultimately lead to death. An AIDS patient has such a weak immune system that they are unable to fight diseases and can die from a cold or flu.
Symptoms of AIDS may include:
- The patient may experience abdominal pain
- They may have a sore throat or experience pain while swallowing
- Dry cough
- Fatigue, malaise, sweating especially during the night
- Loss of appetite due to nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
- Ulcers in and around the mouth
- Swelling, pain and sores around the groin area
An HIV infected person carries the virus in their body fluids, blood and breast milk. The virus is passed from an infected person to another person only through blood-to-blood and sexual contact. Myths persist about how HIV is transmitted to the extent that HIV carriers are kept in isolation rooms and not allowed to drink or eat with others in some countries. In addition to the physical symptoms they experience, this social isolation severely reduces their quality of life. Therefore, it is important to understand the true transmission of HIV.
Only certain body fluids from the genitals – and breast milk—from an HIV-infected person can transmit HIV. These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to possibly occur. Mucous membranes can be found inside the genitals and the mouth. HIV is not spread through saliva, however if the infected person has bleeding gums or sores then blood may be exchanged. Infected pregnant women can pass HIV to the baby through pregnancy, labour and through breast feeding. The virus can be transmitted through sexual intercourse, blood transfusion and contaminated needles. In New Zealand, the most common way to pass on HIV is through unprotected sex with a person who has HIV.
Currently, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS. Treatment can slow the progression but cannot cure the condition. AIDS sufferers have to ensure they are extra careful not to acquire any infections, as the most trivial infection can lead to death.
1st December is World AIDS Day and the red ribbon is the universal symbol of awareness and support for those living with HIV.
Are you worried?
Visit New Zealand AIDS Foundation website on www.nzaf.org.nz for more information on how to keep safe and reduce your risk of contracting HIV.
If you believe you may have been exposed to a risk of contracting HIV, book in for a free HIV rapid test.
Dr Sarkaw Mohammad (Chiropractor)