World AIDS Day on December 1 has started a global initiative to raise awareness, fight prejudice, and improve education about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. You probably have heard a lot about HIV and AIDS. Most people think these diseases are not their problem because only people engaged in high risk sexual activity or drug users are exposed. WRONG! Anyone, children, students, adults and seniors at any age can be infected with HIV.
People are infected with the HIV virus through unprotected sexual contact with infected blood, semen or vaginal fluids or by sharing needles or blood products with someone who carries the HIV virus. People can be carrying the HIV virus and not know it or think they have a cold or flu. The human body can carry the virus for up to ten years before serious disease is experienced. Initial symptoms of an HIV infection are a headache, muscle aches, swollen glands, sore throat, fever or chills with sweating, and sometimes a rash or mouth ulcers. Later stage symptoms include lack of energy, loss of appetite, chronic diarrhea and yeast infections and short-term memory loss with blotchy lesions on the skin in the mouth, eyelids, nose or genital area. If you’ve had hepatitis or tuberculosis you may carry HIV. If you had a blood transfusion from 1978-1985 or in a developing country you may carry HIV.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages your body’s immune system. An immune system fights infection and disease. This damage may lead to a serious chronic condition called AIDS (acquired immune-deficiency syndrome), where unusual cancers and severe infections occur and results in the breakdown of health maintenance in your body. With early and uninterrupted medication, a person who is infected by the virus will suppress HIV and make it harder to pass the virus. So, what can we do?
If you think you have been exposed to HIV, blood tests, mouth swabs or urine testing is available. If you are having unprotected sex or have had contact with shared needles at any age, get tested. Then use latex or polyurethane condoms and don’t share needles. You can be tested at a doctor’s office or lab or even at home. Home testing kits are available online, but make sure the test is approved and certified. ChesPenn Health Services in Upper Darby offers low or no cost testing. Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania in Media, PA also offers low or no cost HIV tests. Get treatment if your test is positive. Use the CDC (Center for Disease Control) website or call 800-232-4636 for more help and information, or ask me or any staff person.
Talk about this disease. Everyone needs to know the facts, even children and grandparents!