How much have you heard lately about HIV or AIDS? Do you know or have friends who have persons close to them that have been infected or affected by HIV? Has it changed their lives? Have we turned a deaf ear to any discussion of “the virus,” thinking, hoping, that it goes away? Don’t want to be associated with HIV, even in our speech? We are asking these questions because the disease is still spreading like wildfire in Los Angeles and other communities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans account for almost half of new infections and represented more than one-third of people living with HIV in 2013 in the U.S. New HIV infections for African-American men was more than six times as high as the rate among white men, and more than twice that of Hispanic men. The rate of HIV infection for black women remains 20 times as high as that of white women, and almost five times that of Hispanic women. African American young men who have sex with men are the most severely impacted, and in 2010 accounted for 51% of all HIV infections among African Americans.
Medical advances mean that HIV is no longer a death sentence. Among those living with HIV, more people die of smoking-related causes than HIV. We should remember that HIV is neither a gay nor young person’s disease; 15% of new infections occur in people aged 50 years or older. New medicine also means that those living with HIV may decrease the amount of virus in their body to the point of being undetectable by HIV tests. This is progress.
People with an undetectable viral load are less likely to spread HIV.
What is HIV and how does it affect the body? HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS if not treated. Unlike other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV completely, even with treatment. It attacks the body’s immune system, which is the front line to fight infections. If untreated, HIV leaves the person more vulnerable to other infections or some types of cancer. These infections and/or cancers take advantage of a very weak immune system. Over time HIV can weaken the immune system.
Then the body is unable to fight infections and diseases as it normally would. This point is called AIDS, the last stage of HIV infection.
How does HIV spread? HIV is transmitted through exchange of certain body fluids – blood, semen, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk – from a person who has HIV in their body. Most infections occur as a result of sexual behaviors and needle or syringe use. HIV can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and birth. It is not spread in air, water, saliva, sweat, tears, insects, pets, sharing toilets, food, or sharing drinks. Studies show that 9 out of 10 new infections occur because people do not know their HIV status and consequently end up infecting others.
How can we know if we have the virus? The only way to know for sure is to get tested. Knowing your status is important. It can help you make healthy decisions to prevent getting or spreading HIV and to maintain your health if you are infected.
To find local confidential HIV testing sites:
• Visit: https://gettested.cdc.gov
• Text your ZIP code to 566948
• Call 800-367-AIDS (2437)
• Home testing kits
After you get tested, it is important to find out the result. If you are HIV-positive, you can get counseling and talk to your medical provider about treatment options.
How to avoid becoming infected with HIV?
• Get tested to know your status.
• Use condoms correctly and consistently every time.
• Know your new partner’s HIV status before you have sex with them.
• Limit your number of sexual partners. If you have more than one, get tested every 6 months.
• Ensure needles are sterile when using them, even for tattoos.
• Talk to your medical provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which is taking an HIV pill daily to avoid becoming infected. See http://getprepla.com
• If you may have been exposed to HIV, taking HIV medication within the first 72 hours decreases your chances of becoming infected. This is known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). See http://getprepla.com/learn_more_pep.html
What if we are already living with HIV?
• See your doctor every 6 months
• Do not miss taking your medicine daily
• Avoid excessive alcohol use
• Maintain a healthy lifestyle
There is still no cure for HIV. But, with proper medical care, the condition can be controlled, and you can lower the chance of spreading it to others. The first step is getting tested.