What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus that can be contracted through sexual contact with someone who has HIV.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is caused by a virus known as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. This virus attacks the body’s immune (defence) system and over period of time destroys it. This leaves the body defenceless against infections by other germs and the growth of cancers.
Living with HIV/AIDS
In addition to drugs and other treatments that can treat, control or prevent opportunistic infections, progress has been made in producing effective drugs that combat HIV directly. These drugs, often known as “combination therapies” or “the cocktail,” slow down the effect of HIV on the immune system by interfering with the replication of HIV.
This form of therapy usually consists of a number of drugs taken on a strict timetable. Although these drugs are not easy to take and have side effects, when combination therapy is successful, it can improve the health of people with HIV, sometimes causing remission of their symptoms in addition to reducing viral load (that is to say, reduce the amount of HIV in their body), increase number of CD4 cells, and reduce the likelihood of progressing to AIDS.
Combination therapy does not work for everyone. The length of time that the drugs are effective against the virus varies, and drug resistance can set in, making the drugs ineffective. Additionally, some people with HIV use complementary therapies such as acupuncture, vitamin supplementation, massage, etc. in addition to drug therapies to alleviate side effects, reduce stress and improve immune function. Once thought to be an invariably fatal illness, we can no longer say that every person with HIV will become ill or die of AIDS. However, there still is no cure for HIV infection or AIDS.
If I get HIV does it mean I will get AIDS?
HIV infection occurs after the virus enters and establishes infection in the body. In the early stages people look and feel totally well. Even at this stage it is possible to diagnose HIV infection through a blood test. Only when the immune system becomes seriously damaged do persons begin to fall ill. The term AIDS is reserved for this late stage of infections.
Not everybody who is infected with HIV will develop AIDS. About 30% of clients develop AIDS 5 years after they are infected, and 50% will develop AIDS within 8 to 10 years. Others may be well for longer periods of time. The percentage of clients who show symptoms of AIDS earlier are usually the ones who are not on HIV medical treatments.
Since there is no cure, the only way to beat AIDS is to not allow the virus into your body.
How is HIV spread?
There are 3 ways HIV can spread from one person to another.
- Through semen, vaginal fluids or blood during unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person
- Sharing needles and syringes for intravenous drug use with an infected person
- From infected mother to baby during pregnancy, child birth or breastfeeding
How can I be infected by HIV?
HIV is a fragile virus that cannot survive outside of the body. That is why you cannot be infected with HIV from toilet seats or from sharing dishes or utensils. HIV does not get passed through the air – as a cold or flu virus does.
HIV infected body fluids must reach the HIV-susceptible cells in the blood, usually through a break in the skin, absorption through mucosal membranes (mucosa) or through some disruption to the mucosa. Mucosa are the moist surfaces of the body which line most of the body cavities and hollow internal organs such as the vagina, rectum, mouth, urethra, nose and eyelids.
HIV does not get passed from one person to another through deep kissing, mutual masturbation or inserting fingers into the vagina or anus. You cannot get HIV from body fluids such as saliva, sweat or urine.
There are five body fluids which have enough HIV in them to infect someone:
- semen (cum)
- vaginal fluids (including menstrual fluids)
- rectal fluids
- breast milk
Does everyone who comes into contact with HIV get infected?
While there is a HIGH risk of being infected through unprotected sex with an HIV-positive person, such contact does not always lead to HIV transmission.
The risk increases greatly for the partner who is penetrated (women rather than men, in the case of vaginal sex);
- in the presence of other sexually transmitted infections (STI) such as gonorrhoea, herpes and syphilis; and
- when the HIV-positive person is in the very early and very late stages of HIV infection.
Anal intercourse without condoms carries the highest risk of any sexual activity. Precautions, such as using condoms, should be taken with ALL partners unless it is certain both partners are HIV-negative and are completely faithful to each other by ongoing dialog about each other’s sexual health.
The risk of catching HIV from sharing contaminated needles or syringes is extremely high (around 80%), while the chance of a pregnant mother infecting her baby is between 15 to 30%.
Can I get HIV through casual contact?
Casual social contact with persons infected with HIV or AIDS does not place others at risk.
It has been conclusively shown that HIV cannot be spread by:
- visiting a health clubs
- shaking hands
- working out at a gyms
- other biting insects
- sharing of food
- through eating utensils
Don’t be afraid! There is no need to discriminate or stigmatise.
Who are at risk of getting infected?
According to the latest stats from MOH, of the 463 cases reported in 2012, 469 cases acquired the infection through the sexual route. About 93% of the new cases were males and 7% were females. This brings the total number of HIV infected Singapore residents to 5,775 as of end 2012.
It isn’t who you are or what you do that puts you at risk. It is how you do it. Take precautions no matter what kind of sex you are into.
Can I catch HIV from blood transfusion?
Since 1985, all donated blood in Singapore is tested for HIV and all contaminated specimens are destroyed. In addition, all persons engaging in high risk activities are advised not to donate blood. Therefore, the blood supply in Singapore is almost totally safe.
There is absolutely no risk of catching HIV when donating blood because all equipment used (needles, syringes, tubing and containers) is sterile, used only once and thrown away.
Transfusions are the least of your worries! Instead, take precautions during sex each and every time.
How do I protect myself from HIV Infection?
Abstinence from sexual contact is one foolproof method of avoiding HIV infection, other STDs and pregnancy. Don’t be pressured into having penetrative sex, especially if you are not ready. There are also many other pleasurable activities you can do besides having penetrative sex – including caressing, stroking, massage, light kissing and mutual masturbation.
Be Faithful to one partner or limiting your sexual activity to one faithful sexual partner will reduce risks of being exposed to the virus.
Condoms still remain the most effective way to prevent HIV transmission, if you intend to have penetrative sex. If used correctly and consistently, good quality condoms can significantly reduce the risk of contracting HIV and other STDs, and also prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Drug addiction can destroy your life in many ways. If you have a drug usage problem and are injecting, never share needles and syringes with others. Learn how to clean your equipment with bleach (chlorox).
If you get tattooed of have your ear pierced, be sure the equipment is new or has been sterilised between customers. (Always make sure the tattoo artist opens the new needle in front of you)
Ways to have safer sex
Caressing, massaging, body stroking, bathing together, sharing fantasies and telephone sex carry no risk whatsoever of transmitting HIV.
Masturbating yourself is completely safe. Mutual masturbation with a partner is safe as long as semen, vaginal fluids or blood do not enter cuts, sores and rashes on the skin. Use latex surgical gloves if you have cuts.
Dry or light kissing in which there is no exchange of saliva is totally safe. Deep kissing and contact with cuts and sores or bleeding gums in the mouth may carry a small risk.
Vaginal, anal and oral sex using a condom
The AIDS virus cannot pass through an unbroken latex condom worn correctly. Be sure the male partner puts it on all the way to the end.
Use water based lubricants with a latex condom. Any type of oil or grease (like oils, creams and lotions) will cause the condom to weaken and break. Only use condoms of reliable brands that are not past their expiry date. Call the AFA hotline if you have any how-to-do questions. No question is too small or personal for us!
Is there a way to diagnose HIV Infection?
The HIV blood test detects antibodies produced by the body in response to infection by HIV.
A “positive” or “reactive” test means that the person is infected and is infectious to others as well. But this test does not predict when the person will go on to develop AIDS.
Taking the test is a big decision and should not be done without pretest counselling. Although early detection can help in the management of HIV infection, some people prefer not to test until they are emotionally ready.
With the introduction of the 4th generation HIV antigen & antibodies test kits, the window period to take a test is now shorten to 14 days.
Whether you take the test or not, you should always practice safer sex, unless both you and your partner have tested negative and are maintaining a completely monogamous relationship.
Click on to find out more about our Anonymous HIV & Syphilis Testing Service
Is there a cure for HIV / AIDS?
While there is no cure for HIV infection and AIDS at this time, there are medicines that can treat and manage the infections and cancers that occur with AIDS. Drugs which attack the HIV virus are also available. Advancements in treatment mean that lifespan and quality of life of persons living with HIV has dramatically improved and is on par with that of a person without HIV.
What can I do to fight HIV in Singapore?
Take personal action to prevent yourself from getting infected. Stay well informed of the facts and pass on the information to your family, friends and loved ones; dispel myths and correct misconceptions you may hear about HIV infection. Don’t let others pressure you into discriminating or stigmatising persons who have lifestyles different from your own or have HIV infection. If someone you know has HIV, show your love and support instead. Arrange for AIDS Awareness events in your workplace, school, club or home. If you think you may have put yourself at risk of HIV infection, contact the HIV/AIDS helplines for information or to arrange for an appointment with a counsellor. Alternatively you can contact your own doctor for support.
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