According to UNAIDS, there has been a spike in HIV cases in Asia and the Pacific, with an increase of 260,000 new cases. More awareness and concern for the virus is needed in order to reduce the number of cases. We've provided some information below that can help you understand how HIV is transmitted and how you can protect yourself from it.

If you need support or just someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.

What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that impacts the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infections. If no treatment is sought, most people will develop a severe immune deficiency, which means that they are no longer able to fight off a range of health problems that they normally would be able to.

Ultimately, this can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, also known as AIDS. When HIV has advanced to AIDS, a person is more likely to develop serious and life threatening conditions such as tuberculosis and different types of cancers. Therefore, it is super important to protect yourself and others to prevent the spread of HIV.

How can HIV be transmitted?

HIV can be passed from person to person through bodily fluids including:

  • Blood

  • Semen

  • Vaginal fluids

  • Breast milk

It can be also be transmitted through:

  • Unprotected vaginal or anal sex without using a condom.

  • Through oral sex.

  • Sharing infected drug injecting equipment such as needles or syringes.

  • Through unsterilised tattooing or piercing needles or equipment.

  • Needlestick injuries that affect healthcare workers.

  • Passed on from an HIV-positive mother to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

    • With effective treatment and care, the risk of transmission from mother to child can be greatly reduced.

The only 100% effective way to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV and STDs is through abstinence, which means avoiding all oral, anal and vaginal sex.

Please note that you CANNOT get HIV through:

  • Touching, hugging, or shaking hands;

  • Touching an object which an HIV-positive person has touched;

  • Sharing utensils or cups;

  • Eating food prepared by an HIV-positive person;

  • Using communal facilities such as public toilets and showers.

What are the symptoms of HIV?

Primary infection

Primary infection, which occurs two to four weeks after the virus enters the body, can result in symptoms including:

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Muscle aches & joint pain

  • Rash

  • Diarrhoea

  • Weight loss

  • Swollen lymph glands, mainly on the neck

  • Cough

Chronic HIV

During this stage of infection, HIV is still present in the body. However, many people may not have any symptoms during this time.

Symptomatic HIV infection

As the virus continues to live in the host body, immune cells which assist an individual to fight off germ infections are destroyed. When this stage occurs, a person may experience symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue and extreme tiredness

  • Fever, sweats or chills

  • Swollen lymph glands in the neck, underarm or groin areas

  • Weight loss

  • Pneumonia

  • Shingles

How is HIV treated?

While there is no vaccine or cure for HIV, there are treatments that can help to prevent the transmission of HIV and the occurrence of AIDS, allowing people to live a near-normal life expectancy.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a treatment that stops the virus from reproducing itself. By taking it daily, HIV can become a manageable chronic condition.

As long as a person gets proper medical treatment for HIV, they can usually live a healthy, active life. However, when HIV is diagnosed after a person has had it for a long time, medical treatment may be less effective.

If you need support or just someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.

How to prevent the transmission of HIV?

There are multiple methods that can help prevent and protect yourself from HIV. Simple and basic strategies include:

  • Abstinence

  • Never sharing needles or syringes

  • Using condoms the right way if and when you do have sex

    • Although a condom can be highly effective in preventing HIV and certain other STDs, there is still always a risk involved. If you are unsure, please consult your health professionals at Sonder, local GPs and sexual health clinics for more information.

  • HIV prevention medications such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

    • PrEP - For people who do not already have HIV, but are at a very high risk of getting it. PrEP is a daily medication that can reduce the risk. If you are exposed to HIV, the medicine can stop HIV spreading throughout the body.

    • PEP - For people who have possibly been exposed to HIV. It is only for emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after possible exposure to HIV.

How can I protect myself from getting HIV?

Get regularly tested for HIV through your doctor, or a sexual health clinic that can conduct a sexual health check and assess your risk of contracting the condition. It's important to have a full sexual health test at least once a year, more so if you have new sexual partners. Here are the steps you should take to protect yourself from the virus:

  • Abstain from sex or use a condom when having sex.

  • Never share needles, syringes or any other injecting equipment.

  • If you are sexually active, get tested.

  • Act aware. This means:

    • Taking care of your own health and wellbeing.

    • Acting responsibly to protect the health and wellbeing of others.

Remember that even if you always use condoms, they don't protect you 100% of the time from HIV and other STIs. The testing will not only include HIV but will also include other STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis.

It's also important to treat everyone living with HIV fairly and with understanding. Many people who have HIV find it hard to tell other people about it and some have had to deal with rejection from friends, family or colleagues, and have experienced verbal or physical abuse.

If you are unsure of any of the information included in this article, please reach out to Sonder’s 24/7 health professionals for further information.

Related reading:

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from: Better Health Channel, UNAIDS, HealthDirect and MayoClinic

Image credit: Pexels

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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