What is it?

  • HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is the virus that can lead to AIDS.
  • HIV can only be passed from one person to another.
  • HIV attacks our immune system, which is responsible for protecting the body against infection and disease.
  • The average healthy person has anywhere between 500-1,500 white blood cells (WBCs) per teaspoon of blood. When someone becomes infected with HIV, HIV will inject its genetic material into the WBCs, turning them into HIV factories, producing as many copies of HIV as possible.
  • One WBC can produce up to 5,000 copies of HIV.
  • As the amount of viral load increases in the body, the amount of healthy WBC decreases dramatically, which causes the immune system to slowly weaken.
  • HIV cannot survive outside of the body or in the presence of oxygen. Once HIV is exposed to oxygen it will die within 10-15 seconds.
  • HIV is a two way transfer. This means that a man can transmit it to a women, a women can transmit it to a man, a man can transmit it to another man, and a woman could potentially transmit it to another woman, however that is very rare.

How do you get it?

  • HIV is present in all bodily fluids. However, only 4 of those fluids transmit the virus: blood, seminal fluid, vaginal fluid and breast milk.
  • Blood
    • There are 2 ways we see people transmit HIV through blood.
      • Injection Drug Use

        An injection drug user will use syringes, also known as needles. Syringes are hollow on the inside. On the inside of those syringes are what we call Syringes have what are called micro serrations, which are like tiny walls inside the syringe. When someone pierces their skin with a syringe, blood will get trapped behind those serrations and HIV can live inside of the needle for up to 4 weeks. Oxygen molecules are too big to get inside of the needle to kill off the HIV. You cannot burn or boil a needle to kill off the HIV virus. You would have to burn or boil it to a point where the needle is melted and rendered unusable.

      • Tattoos

        HIV transmission is seen mostly when individuals receive unprofessional tattoos. Unprofessional tattoos are tattoos done outside of a licensed shop. In a licensed shop, tattoo artists follow regulations that help keep you safe. Outside of a shop, tattoo artists don’t necessarily  have to follow the same regulations, which puts you at risk. The issue is tattoo artists reusing tattoo ink. This is a problem because HIV can live in the used ink for up to 4 weeks. If you want to get a tattoo and don’t want to get infected with HIV, follow these tips: when you go to a tattoo shop to get a tattoo, make sure that the artist opens up all equipment in front of you, this way you know everything is brand new; if you decide to get a tattoo outside of a licensed facility, simply buy your own ink and needle, this way you know it has never been used on anybody else.

  • Seminal and Vaginal Fluid
    • The only way you are going to come into contact with either one of these fluids is through unprotected sex. Unprotected sex is sex without a condom. There are three types of sex–anal, vaginal and oral. All three types come with their own risks.
      • Anal Sex

        Anal sex is the riskiest type of sex, simply because of the anatomy of the body. The rectal tissues are extremely thin and fragile, there are a lot of blood vessels and there is a lot of blood flow. Any time there is anal penetration, microtears (tiny tears inside the anus) are going to happen because the rectum does not stretch. The rectum also does not self-lubricate, therefore has a high absorption rate. As soon as it comes into contact with any fluids, it will absorb them almost immediately. When microtears happen, blood is likely to be present. If you have unprotected anal sex you expose yourself to seminal fluid and blood.

      • Vaginal Sex

        Vaginal Sex is a moderate to high risk. Again, simply because of the anatomy of the body. The vagina is on the inside of the body and there is simply more surface area and tissue to infect. Unlike the rectum, the vagina does self-lubricate, however, it also has a very high absorption rate, so it will almost immediately absorb any fluids it comes into contact with. If you have unprotected vaginal sex you expose yourself to blood, seminal and vaginal fluid.

      • Oral Sex

        Oral sex is a very low risk for the transmission for HIV. Our mouths and esophagus are mucus membranes. They are built and meant to take in solids and liquids. If someone were to swallow seminal or vaginal fluid, our stomach acids are so strong that HIV would not be able to survive. However, if someone were to have a cut or sore in their mouth, this could pose a different risk. This would allow for a direct pathway for HIV to get into the blood.

  • Breast Milk
    • During breast feeding, the area around the nipple can dry and crack, blood particles may be present. We may not always see those blood particles but it doesn’t mean that they are not there. If those blood particles are to mix in with the breast milk and the baby is to drink it, the baby could become infected, so the woman is simply to use formula.
    • There are other concerns for HIV positive mothers, as well: When a woman is pregnant, she will go through prenatal care. During her prenatal care, her doctor will test her for HIV in her first and her third trimester. If at any point in time she is to test positive for HIV, she will then be put on medication. When it comes time to give birth, whether the woman has a natural birth or has to have a C-section will all depend on her viral load (the amount of virus in her body at that time). If her viral load is too high, the doctor will likely opt to have a C-section, because during a C-section the baby would only come into contact with blood. If the woman’s viral load is low enough the doctor will allow for her to have a vaginal birth. During a natural birth the baby comes into contact with blood as well as vaginal fluid.

What are the symptoms?

  • HIV has no signs or symptoms.
  • The only way someone is to know they have become infected is if they are to get tested.
  • If left untreated, HIV can result in death.

Treatment & Prevention

  • Once someone has tested HIV+ they will need to get on medication.
  • HIV effects everyone differently therefore treatment will vary for each individual person. Some people can take as little as 1 pill a day, others can take more.
  • Once someone who is HIV+ is on medication it will be imperative that they take their medication at the same time every day and never miss a dose. If they are to miss a dose that medication may no longer be good for them in the future.
  • There are a number of ways to prevent yourself from becoming infected with HIV.
    • Wearing a condom, the whole time, every time, and correctly.
    • Not having unprotected sex with multiple people.
    • Not sharing syringes
    • Not getting unprofessional tattoos