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Understanding HIV/AIDS

Understanding HIV/AIDS

“South Africa currently has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world, with an estimated 6,3 million people infected”, says Allison Vienings, Executive Director of the Self-Medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa (SMASA).

“World AIDS Day on 1 December is an annual reminder that the fight against HIV/AIDS continues”, she says. “It gives people around the world the opportunity to show their support for those living with HIV – and to commemorate those who have died.”

“HIV/AIDS continues to be one of the world’s foremost public health issues, having already claimed over 35 million lives. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most affected region, with approximately 25,8 million people infected. It also accounts for up to 70% of new infections worldwide. SMASA aims to help slow the current rate of infection in South Africa through education and awareness.”

What is HIV/AIDS?

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a life-threatening disease caused by an infection known as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The virus restricts the body’s ability to fight disease-causing organisms by weakening the immune system. HIV is a sexually transmitted disease but it is also spread through contact with infected blood or from mother to child during pregnancy. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS but there is treatment available that slows down the progression of the disease.

The three stages of HIV:

1. Acute HIV infection – This is the earliest stage of infection. It typically develops within two to four weeks after contracting the virus. Flu-like symptoms such as fever, headaches, and rashes are experienced throughout this stage. The virus spreads rapidly, attacking and destroying infection-fighting cells that protect the immune system. Individuals are highly infectious during this stage.

2. Chronic HIV infection – During this stage, the virus continues to multiply, but in very low levels. Symptoms aren’t prominent but those infected are still highly contagious. Without treatment or chronic medication, HIV could advance to AIDS within 10 to 12 years.

3. AIDS – This is the final stage of HIV infection. By this stage, the virus has destroyed the immune system and the body is unable to fight off infections or diseases like cancer. Without proper treatment, those with AIDS typically live for about three years.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms during the early stages usually disappear within a month and are often mistaken for other viral infections. The early stages are the most infectious as the virus is present in large quantities in the blood stream.

During the late stages of HIV infection, the virus severely weakens the immune system, and infected individuals may experience rapid weight loss, recurring fever or profuse night sweats, extreme and unexplained tiredness, prolonged swelling of the lymph glands, diarrhoea that lasts for more than a week, sores in the mouth, pneumonia, blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids, memory loss, and depression.

Diagnosis and treatment

The most common way to diagnose HIV is through a blood test. The test looks for antibodies to the virus in the blood stream of infected individuals. If the test returns a positive result, treatment known as antiretroviral therapy (ART) is used to control the virus to enable sufferers to live longer, healthier lives and to reduce their risk of transmitting the disease.

Risk factors            

Anyone of any age, race, sex or sexual orientation can be infected, but you have an increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS if you:

– Have unprotected sex

– Have a sexually transmitted infection (STI)

– Use intravenous drugs or share needles

– Are uncircumcised

World AIDS Day

For more information on World AIDS Day and how you can get involved, visit http://sanac.org.za.