World AIDS Day 2017: 9 facts about HIV/AIDS everyone should know


World AIDS Day has been designated every December 1 since 1988 as a way to draw awareness of the disease and mourn the 35 million people who have died from it.

The event has since shifted to focus on successes in the global fight against the disease and the importance of continuing these efforts for the 36.7 million worldwide who are living with HIV/AIDS.

Yet, as recently as 2012, more than a third of Americans incorrectly believed the virus could be transmitted by sharing a drinking glass with an HIV-positive person, swimming in the same pool as someone infected or even just touching the same toilet seat.

So, even though HIV and AIDS are common terms, myths and confusion clearly remain. So what is HIV, what is AIDS, and what do we know about prevention and treatment?

Here are nine vital facts to know about HIV and AIDS and how to prevent and treat both:

1. HIV is a virus. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the cells in the body (CD4, or T cells) that help the immune system fight off infection. People infected with HIV can become increasingly more susceptible to infections if the virus goes untreated and impairs those immune cells. Like the virus that causes the chicken pox, HIV remains in the body.

MORE: 

CDC: Blacks with HIV less likely to receive consistent medical care

Stigma still fueling rising rate of HIV among blacks 

Despite progress, Atlanta’s HIV epidemic is worse

2. AIDS is a medical diagnosis, given when an individual  has the HIV infection and either a low count of immune cells, an opportunistic infection or both. AIDS is actually the third stage of HIV infection, with the first being exposure to the virus.

3. Known most commonly as Chronic HIV, the second stage is the most critical for treatment. Although exposure to the virus can immediately create flu-like symptoms in some people, many are unaware they have been infected. HIV can be asymptomatic (with no symptoms) for years, but the virus is still attacking the body's immune system even if the person doesn't feel sick. The CDC recommends antiretroviral treatment for anyone with HIV, which will both minimize the damage to the person's immune system and also reduce the chance of transmission.

4. Transmission is most common among two very specific activities: sexual contact and needle/syringe sharing. Less commonly, infants born to HIV-positive mothers who did not receive HIV treatment, either through shared blood during pregnancy or while nursing after birth.

5.Casual contact – social kissing, hugging, sharing toilets or plates – will not transmit HIV. And while it is possible to get the virus from a reused or improperly sterilized tattoo or piercing needle, or from contaminated ink, there have been no known cases of anyone in the U.S. getting the disease that way. Likewise, mosquitos or other insects cannot transmit HIV.

6. Early treatment and antiretroviral treatment has proven successful in making HIV a chronic condition, instead of the once fatal diagnosis when World AIDS Day began. Yet one in seven Americans who have HIV don't know it. That's why everyone between 13 and 64 should be tested for the virus at least once. People with higher risk factors may need more frequent testing, which they can discuss with their doctor.

7. Despite improvements in treatment for HIV, there is still no cure. Researchers are working to develop a vaccine that would train the body's immune system to fight the virus and prevent it from taking hold. There is also PrEP – or a combination of HIV drugs known as pre-exposure prophylaxis – that can be taken daily to prevent the virus from establishing a permanent infection. It is not 100 percent effective, although it does reduce the risk of infection by more than 90 percent among those who take it properly.

Furthermore, the CDC released a statement recently disclosing that, when HIV patients have viral detection low enough (of 200 copies/ml), the virus cannot be transmitted.

"Across three different studies, including thousands of couples and many thousand acts of sex without a condom or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)," the statement continues, "no HIV transmissions to an HIV-negative partner were observed when the HIV-positive person was virally suppressed. This means that people who take ART daily as prescribed and achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner."

8. With the advances in treatment and prevention, HIV/AIDS doesn't generate the headlines it did a generation ago. An estimated 37,600 Americans became infected in 2014, an 18 percent drop nationwide from 2008. Despite that improvement, two populations experience a greater burden of new HIV cases: African-Americans, who accounted for 45 percent of all new infections, and people in the southeastern U.S., who account for roughly half of new infections.

9. Taken together, the facts around HIV/AIDS means one of the most important factors in effective treatment and prevention of the disease is knowing your HIV status. That requires a test, and World AIDS Day is a good reminder to get one scheduled. Hospitals, community health clinics and many doctors offer HIV tests, or you can visit GetTested to find the closest site for free and confidential testing for HIV, syphilis and other diseases. Those without online access can text their ZIP code to KNOW IT (566948).


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Health

Is feeding a cold a real thing? 5 winter health myths debunked
Is feeding a cold a real thing? 5 winter health myths debunked

You've probably heard winter health myths for years and you may have even accepted some of them as fact. From being told to bundle up, so you don't catch a cold to your neighbor swearing he got the flu from his flu shot, these myths make the rounds every winter. Mom always warned you you'd get sick if you didn't bundle up before heading out in cold...
PHOTOS: Why you need to hike Clifton Gorge right NOW
PHOTOS: Why you need to hike Clifton Gorge right NOW

After a blustery day of hiking at Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve, our jaws were more tired from dropping in awe than our legs were tired from the trek.  Clifton Gorge is a 268-acre preserve in Yellow Springs, protecting “one of the most spectacular dolomite and limestone gorges in the state,” according to the Ohio ...
4 drinks that could be sabotaging your weight loss efforts
4 drinks that could be sabotaging your weight loss efforts

When you're trying to lose weight, you may not give much thought to what you drink, but those calories definitely add up! These "liquid calories" can sabotage your weight-loss efforts, and you may not feel as full as if you'd eaten the same number of calories. Many drinks also provide little to no nutrients and are often loaded with...
Lack of sunlight may cause winter weight gain, research suggests
Lack of sunlight may cause winter weight gain, research suggests

We often blame our added winter pounds on the holidays. All the gatherings of family and friends combined with good food, often take the toll on our waistlines. But if you're one of the many who laments adding a few pounds in December, it may not actually be entirely due to changes in your diet. In fact, new research suggests that a lack of sunlight...
25 Dayton-area galas and charity events to put on your calendar in 2018
25 Dayton-area galas and charity events to put on your calendar in 2018

This is a rare opportunity to dine with Dayton’s Mayor Nan Whaley and other esteemed guests from My Project USA. Proceeds from the evening will be used to protect and empower Dayton’s needy and underserved families.  WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Saturday, January 20 WHERE: The Golf Club at Yankee Trace, 10000 Yankee St., Centerville ...
More Stories