HIV and AIDS: All you need to know about the deadly virus


Definition of Terms

HIV is a virus which affects the immune system, and it is an acronym that stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

AIDS is the disease that is caused by the HIV various – a sexually transmitted disease which stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Modes of Transmission of HIV/AIDS

Understanding the mode of transmission of HIV/AIDS is necessary for people to protect themselves of from the disease. Notably, HIV/AIDS has no cure, so it is important that people know how it is transmitted so that they can avoid being infected.

The first important thing to note is that the HIV virus is transmitted through fluids such as:

  • Breast milk
  • Blood
  • Semen and pre-seminal fluid
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Rectal fluids and anal mucus.

Therefore, any contact between two people that involves the exchange of any of the above fluids increases the risk of catching AIDS. Some of the methods through which AIDS is transmitted include:

  • Sexual intercourse with an infected person – exchange of vaginal fluids, semen and pre-cum fluids.
  • Blood transfusion as well as use of sharp objects used by an infected person – because it involves exchange and transmission through blood,
  • Mother to child transmission during birth and through breastfeeding

To be safe, people should avoid sexual intercourse with people who are not tested for HIV/AIDS or use a condom to prevent exchange of fluids during intercourse.

Myths and Misconceptions about HIV and AIDS

A myth is a belief or story about an event or something, which is based on prejudice and stereotype rather than the truth. It is a misconception about something, which may usually have a little truth, but much of it is twisted and false.

There are several myths associated with HIV&AIDS, which explain misconceptions about how the diseases is transmitted. Some of the myths suggest that the transmission of HIV & AIDS occurs through:

  • Shaking hands
  • Donating blood
  • A mosquito bite
  • Sharing beddings and utensils
  • Sleeping or sitting next to someone infected with HIV/AIDS
  • Hugging or playing with an infected person
  • Coming into contact with the sweat of an infected person
  • Visiting or consoling a person with HIV & AIDS
  • Bewitching

Some misconceptions about HIV/AIDS

  • Promiscuous people get AIDS
  • Everyone who has been infected with HIV & AIDS looks sick and thin
  • Washing vagina with soap after sex prevents HIV/AIDS
  • Virgins cannot get HIV/AIDS
  • It is okay to engage in sexual intercourse with teenage girls aged below 15 years because they do not have HIV/AIDS
  • AIDS/HIV is a curse from God for people who break the taboos of the society
  • AIDS is caused by witchcraft

Signs and Symptoms of HIV & AIDS

It is difficult to identify a person who has HIV/AIDS in the first few years because the effects of the disease takes time to be seen. However, there are early symptoms HIV which appear within the first 1-4 weeks:

  • Swelling of lymph nodes
  • Headaches
  • Fevers
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating
  • Sore throat and
  • Weight loss

At these initial stages, the immune system fights the HIV virus, but the immunity becomes weakened. When the immune system weakens, the diseases advances to AIDS and give way for opportunistic diseases.

AIDS in itself does not cause illness, it only weakens the immune system and allows other diseases to destroy the life of the infected person.

Symptoms of AIDS

  • Night sweat
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Dry cough
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Pneumonia
  • Memory loss
  • Thrush
  • Herpes zoster
  • Herpes simplex
  • Itchy skins
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • High fatigue
  • Depression and other neurological disorders
  • White spots and blemishes on the mouth
  • Feeling tired and fatigued
  • Changes in the senses of hearing, seeing, touch and smell

Factors that promote the spread of HIV & AIDS

Factors that enhance the spread of HIV & AIDS are those practices and issues that increase the risk of spread of HIV & AIDS. These factors that facilitate the spread of HIV & AIDS include:

  • Wife inheritance
  • Sharing sharp instruments such as razor blades, needles and syringes
  • Use of unsterilized instruments
  • Unfaithfulness
  • Myths and misconceptions about HIV & AIDS
  • Having many sexual partners
  • Wife inheritance
  • Burial events that encourage irresponsible sexual behaviors.
  • Blood transfusion using untested blood.

Ways of Preventing the Spread of HIV & AIDS

Essentially, the spread of HIV & AIDS can be prevented by avoiding practices that promote the exchange of body fluids with an infected person. Because it may not be possible to know who is infected with HIV & AIDS, it is important to take all precautions possible. Some of the ways to prevent the spread of HIV & AIDS are:

  • Abstaining from sex before marriage
  • Being faithful to one sexual partner
  • Using protection and contraceptives such as condoms when having sex
  • Using sterilized instruments during birth, circumcision, ear piercing, etc.
  • Using alternative rites of passage
  • Dispelling the myths and misconceptions about HIV & AIDS
  • Avoiding sharing sharp materials
  • Promoting moral values in society
  • Counselling young people to live responsibly

HIV & AIDS Interventions

  • Increased self-awareness
  • Behavior change
  • Showing empathy
  • HIV & AIDS Education: reinforce community outreach programs
  • Change of attitude
  • Promotion of long healthy life

Care and Support of the Infected and Affected

This entails assisting those infected when they are unable to do things for themselves e.g. cooking, washing them, giving them medicine, dressing wounds, sun bathing etc.

The care providers should however take precautions to avoid infection, especially by avoiding direct contact with the infected person’s body fluids.

Emotional Support

People living with HIV/AIDS need love and support from close people in their lives such as relatives and friends. If they are supported emotionally and physiologically, they become stronger to fight the disease and improve their immunity. However, without support from family and friends they become weaker and more vulnerable.

Here are ways of helping HIV & AIDS victims emotionally to keep them healthy:

  • Need to be loved and appreciated
  • Showing them empathy
  • Need to be encouraged to think positively
  • Need to encourage them to talk freely
  • Being available for them
  • Involving them in decision making at home
  • Need to be respected.

Helping them to develop a positive mental attitude:

  • Help them deal with self-stigma
  • Provide spiritual support
  • Need to free them from fear and shame

Material and Financial Support

  • Give them material and financial support as most of them will have lost their source of income
  • Help them start alternative Income Generating Activities (I. G.).

Anti-Retro Viral Therapy

Anti-Retro Viral Therapy for HIV infection consists of drugs, which work by slowing down the reproduction of HIV in the body. This is only possible after one has known his or her HIV status. ARVs treatment should be sought from a recognized medical facility or practitioner. Those on ARVs should strive to adhere to the prescribed dosage.

Stress Related to HIV & AIDS

People become utterly stressed and traumatized when they realize that they are positive with HIV/AIDS. Such people:

  • Suffer from a state of shock and despair
  • May not accept the situation – living in denial
  • Become disorganized
  • Become or develop the feeling of guilt and shame
  • Develop anxiety and panic attacks
  • Experience increased aggressiveness
  • If properly counseled, they can resolve their confusion and accept the situation
  • Start the process of reintegration into the society after accepting the situation.

When they are undergoing the process of accepting the situation and being reintegrated into society, HIV/AIDS victims require support to relieve stress. This can be done through:

  • Emotional support
  • Medication
  • Being connected with nature e.g. through taking a walk in the garden and watching birds.
  • Taking sufficient vitamins
  • Creating a strict routine sleep pattern.
  • Crying when necessary to release suppressing emotions.
  • Doing good things to other people to feel self-fulfillment.

Skills that help in preventing HIV & AIDS

Prevention is better than cure when it comes to HIV/AIDS because the disease does not have a cure yet. These are the skills that people need to develop in order to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS:

  • Self-awareness
  • Problem solving
  • Negations
  • Coping with stress
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Coping with emotions

Values that help in preventing HIV & AIDS

  • Humility
  • Respect
  • Tolerance
  • Responsibility
  • Honesty
  • Peace

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