World AIDS Day 2017: 9 things to know about HIV/AIDS


World AIDS Day has been designated every Dec. 1 since 1988 as a way to draw awareness to the disease and mourn the 35 million people who have died from it.

The event has since shifted to focus on successes in the global fight against the disease and the importance of continuing these efforts for the 36.7 million worldwide who are living with HIV/AIDS.

>> Read more trending news

Yet, as recently as 2012, more than a third of Americans incorrectly believed the virus could be transmitted by sharing a drinking glass with an HIV-positive person, swimming in the same pool as someone infected or even just touching the same toilet seat.

So, even though HIV and AIDS are common terms, myths and confusion clearly remain. So what is HIV, what is AIDS, and what do we know about prevention and treatment?

Here are nine vital facts to know about HIV and AIDS and how to prevent and treat both:

1. HIV is a virus. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the cells in the body (CD4, or T cells) that help the immune system fight off infection. People infected with HIV can become increasingly more susceptible to infections if the virus goes untreated and impairs those immune cells. Like the virus that causes the chicken pox, HIV remains in the body.

2. AIDS is a medical diagnosis; given when an individual has the HIV infection and either a low count of immune cells, an opportunistic infection or both. AIDS is actually the third stage of HIV infection, with the first being exposure to the virus.

3. Known most commonly as Chronic HIV, the second stage is the most critical for treatment. Although exposure to the virus can immediately create flu-like symptoms in some people, many are unaware they have been infected. HIV can be asymptomatic (with no symptoms) for years, but the virus is still attacking the body's immune system, even if the person doesn't feel sick. The CDC recommends antiretroviral treatment for anyone with HIV, which will both minimize the damage to the person's immune system and also reduce the chance of transmission.

4. Transmission is most common among two very specific activities: sexual contact and needle/syringe-sharing. Less commonly, infants born to HIV-positive mothers who did not receive HIV treatment, either through shared blood during pregnancy or while nursing after birth, can be infected.

5. Casual contact – social kissing, hugging, sharing toilets or plates – will not transmit HIV. And while it is possible to get the virus from a reused or improperly sterilized tattoo or piercing needle, or from contaminated ink, there have been no known cases of anyone in the U.S. getting the disease that way. Likewise, mosquitoes and other insects cannot transmit HIV.

6. Early treatment and antiretroviral treatment has proven successful in making HIV a chronic condition, instead of the once fatal diagnosis when World AIDS Day began. Yet one in seven Americans who have HIV don't know it. That's why everyone between 13 and 64 should be tested for the virus at least once. People with higher risk factors may need more frequent testing, which they can discuss with their doctor.

7. Despite improvements in treatment for HIV, there is still no cure. Researchers are working to develop a vaccine that would train the body's immune system to fight the virus and prevent it from taking hold. There is also PrEP – or a combination of HIV drugs known as pre-exposure prophylaxis – that can be taken daily to prevent the virus from establishing a permanent infection. It is not 100 percent effective, although it does reduce the risk of infection by more than 90 percent among those who take it properly.

Furthermore, the CDC released a statement recently disclosing that, when HIV patients have viral detection low enough (of 200 copies/ml), the virus cannot be transmitted.

"Across three different studies, including thousands of couples and many thousand acts of sex without a condom or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)," the statement continues, "no HIV transmissions to an HIV-negative partner were observed when the HIV-positive person was virally suppressed. This means that people who take ART daily as prescribed and achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner."

8. With the advances in treatment and prevention, HIV/AIDS doesn't generate the headlines it did a generation ago. An estimated 37,600 Americans became infected in 2014, an 18 percent drop nationwide from 2008. Despite that improvement, two populations experience a greater burden of new HIV cases: African-Americans, who accounted for 45 percent of all new infections, and people in the southeastern U.S., who account for roughly half of new infections.

9. Taken together, the facts around HIV/AIDS mean one of the most important factors in effective treatment and prevention of the disease is knowing your HIV status. That requires a test, and World AIDS Day is a good reminder to get one scheduled. Hospitals, community health clinics and many doctors offer HIV tests, or you can visit GetTested to find the closest site for free and confidential testing for HIV, syphilis and other diseases. Those without online access can text their ZIP code to KNOW IT (566948).


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

How an Ohio woman lost 125 pounds
How an Ohio woman lost 125 pounds

New Year’s resolutions can begin in any month of the year. August 2015 is when a success story started for Springboro resident Christina Littleton. Although athletic and thin during her younger years, her father’s passing from pancreatic cancer in 1999 left her reeling emotionally. She gained a lot of weight, met her husband, Jason, got...
L’Oreal features first hijab-wearing model in major hair campaign, sparking controversy online
L’Oreal features first hijab-wearing model in major hair campaign, sparking controversy online

L’Oreal Paris made history when it featured model Amena Khan in its new hair product campaign. Khan, a British beauty blogger, model and co-founder of Ardere Cosmetics, is the first hijab-wearing model to star in a hair campaign for a major international brand. >> Read more trending news  She revealed the video campaign to her...
Doctors urge residents not to ignore flu symptoms following Florida man's death
Doctors urge residents not to ignore flu symptoms following Florida man's death

Friends and loved ones are mourning the loss of an Orlando man who his family said died after he caught the flu. There have been least two other flu-related deaths, both of which were children, in the state this flu season. Doctors said the symptoms of the flu can get very serious very quickly, which is why it's critical for people to pay attention...
Did Chris Christie attempt to skip Newark’s security checkpoint despite not being governor?
Did Chris Christie attempt to skip Newark’s security checkpoint despite not being governor?

Despite no longer being in office Chris Christie tried to enter Newark Liberty International Airport via a special entrance, the Port Authority said. Port Authority officials said Christie, who was traveling with his New Jersey State Police-provided security detail, tried to go through what WCBS described as a special access area Thursday morning...
Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman delivers statement victim against Larry Nassar
Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman delivers statement victim against Larry Nassar

One after one, gymnasts and other victims of disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar stepped forward in a Michigan courtroom over the past week to recount the sexual abuse and emotional trauma he inflicted on them as children. Nassar has pleaded guilty to molesting girls with his hands at his Michigan State University office, his home and a Lansing-area...
More Stories