WHAT CAUSES HIV TRANSMISSION?
There are many myths regarding HIV transmission and people often think they may be a risk when they are not. HIV is transmitted by several very defined, scientifically recognized ways. This routes of infection are recognized as the only means of transmitting the virus. If you have experienced any of the risk factors below or are still concerned after reading the material presented in this section you should go and get tested.
You may or may not be infected if you have experienced the following risk factors:
- Unprotected vaginal or anal sex
- Oral sex, giving or receiving, carries a very small degree of risk with a few cases of HIV transmission from performing oral sex on a person infected with HIV (source: CDC)
- Sharing a needle with someone who is infected
- Receiving a blood transfusions and blood products from tainted blood ) not a concern anymore in most countries)
- Childbirth (passing through the placenta) from an infected, pregnant mother to the unborn baby
- Breastfeeding (rarely)
HIV is not transmitted via:
- Saliva (spit)
- Hugging, kissing or shaking hands with someone who is HIV positive
- Breathing the same air as someone HIV positive
- Touching a doorknob or toilet seat after someone with HIV
- Drinking form a water fountain, glass or using dishes or utensils after someone from HIV
- Using exercise equipment in a gym
- Through touching or being stuck by something with HIV infected blood on the outside of it such as a sewing needle or knife
HIV cannot survive outside the body thus once blood or semen or vaginal fluids hit the air the risk of inflection is zero. According to the center for Disease (CDC) no one has ever been identified as infected with an environmental surface. Additionally, HIV is unable to reproduce outside its living host (unlike many bacteria or fungi, which may do so under suitable conditions), except under laboratory conditions; therefore, it does not spread or maintain infectiousness outside its host.
ARE THERE ANY IMMEDIATE SYMPTOMS AFTER HIV INFECTION?
Some people experience what is called primary or acute infection which are flu like symptoms which occur normally within 1-4 weeks after transmission. During primary infection a high HIV viral load will be present but normally reduces greatly after this stage. Lower-than-normal CD4 (white blood cell) count may be a sign of a suppressed immune system. The CD4 count usually improves 1 - 2 months after acute infection.
Not everyone experiences primary infection and symptoms vary as well as severity of symptoms. These symptoms can last from a few days to 4 weeks, and then subside. They may include any of the following:
- Decreased appetite
- Muscle stiffness or aching
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph glands
- Ulcers of the mouth and esophagus
WHEN SHOULD I GET TESTED?
You should wait at least 30 days to get tested.
Most testing sites use Western Blot/Elisa tests. Although some tests can detect a positive result after 12 -16 days it is recommended that you wait at least 30 days. It normally takes 1 month to begin producing antibodies to HIV which is what the assays (tests) use to detect a positive result. For more information on testing please review the 'HIV Testing' section. Most people will sero convert (become positive) between 30 to 90 days after transmission. VERY RARELY and for an infinitesimally small amount of people it may take up to one year to produce a positive result.
Popular HIV Myths
Myth: I don't need to worry about becoming HIV positive -- new drugs will keep me well.
Yes, antiretroviral drugs are improving and extending the lives of many people who are HIV-positive. However, many of these drugs are expensive and produce serious side effects. None yet provides a cure. Also, drug-resistant strains of HIV make treatment an increasing challenge.
Myth: I can get HIV from mosquitoes.
Because HIV is spread through blood, people have worried that biting or bloodsucking insects might spread HIV. Several studies, however, show no evidence to support this -- even in areas with lots of mosquitoes and cases of HIV. When insects bite, they do not inject the blood of the person or animal they have last bitten. Also, HIV lives for only a short time inside an insect.
Myth: I'm HIV-positive -- my life is over.
In the early years of the disease epidemic, the death rate from AIDS was extremely high. But today, antiretroviral drugs allow HIV-positive people -- and even those with AIDS -- to live much longer.
Myth: AIDS is genocide.
In one study, as many as 30% of African-Americans and Latinos expressed the view that HIV was a government conspiracy to kill minorities. Instead, higher rates of infection in these populations may be due, in part, to a lower level of health care.
Myth: I'm straight and don't use IV drugs -- I won't become HIV-positive.
Most men do become HIV-positive through sexual contact with other men or through injection drug use. However, about 16% of men and 78% of women become HIV-positive through heterosexual contact.
Myth: If I'm receiving treatment, I can't spread the HIV virus.
When HIV treatments work well, they can reduce the amount of virus in your blood to a level so low that it doesn't show up in blood tests. Research shows, however, that the virus is still "hiding" in other areas of the body. It is still essential to practice safe sex so you won't make someone else become HIV-positive.
Myth: My partner and I are both HIV positive -- there's no reason for us to practice safer sex.
Practicing safer sex -- wearing condoms or using dental dams -- can protect you both from becoming exposed to other (potentially drug resistant) strains of HIV.
Myth: I could tell if my partner was HIV-positive.
You can be HIV-positive and not have any symptoms for years. The only way for you or your partner to know if you're HIV-positive is to get tested.