Featured, Fertility, Pregnancy & Birth, Safer Sex

We Need to Talk About HIV

Though education and public discussion about HIV and AIDS has increased, recent research has shown that not all of us are heeding the warnings when it comes to practicing safe sex.

Kirby Institute’s 2013 Annual Surveillance Report on HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmittable infections in Australia highlights the fact that the rate of newly diagnosed HIV infections in Australia rose by 10 percent in 12 months. This was the largest increase in 20 years.

The report, which is compiled annually with the assistance of organisations such as the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, revealed two important, and perhaps surprising statistics:

  • A total of 1253 cases of HIV infection was newly diagnosed in Australia in 2012: a 10% increase over the number in 2011. The annual number of new HIV diagnoses has gradually increased over the past 13 years, from 724 diagnoses in 1999.
  • An estimated 25,708 people were living with diagnosed HIV infection in Australia at the end of 2012.

Though some people confused HIV and AIDS and think of them interchangeably, they are not the same thing. HIV is a virus that causes AIDS. A person living with HIV does not necessarily have AIDS, but all people with AIDS are HIV positive.

What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus – commonly known as HIV – weakens or breaks down the body’s immune system, and makes the body vulnerable to disease and infection. While some people who infected with HIV experience flu-like symptoms, others may not notice any symptoms for many years.

HIV can be transmitted via blood, semen and vaginal fluid during unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex, or when sharing needles. HIV positive mothers can transmit the virus to their babies during pregnancy, vaginal delivery and when breast-feeding.

HIV it is not spread like air-borne viruses like the flu, and it can’t be transmitted by hugging, shaking hands, coughing, sneezing, sharing toilets, or using eating utensils or consuming food and beverages handled by someone who has HIV.

What is AIDS?

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome – commonly known as AIDS – can occur after many years of damage to the immune system caused by HIV. This damage makes the body vulnerable to disease and infection, and during the advanced stages of HIV infection, a person may develop a number of ‘AIDS-defining illnesses’ which can be debilitating and in many cases lead to death.

Protecting Yourself Against HIV

It can take just one unprotected sexual encounter with an infected partner to contract HIV. When used correctly, condoms are the best protection against the transmission of HIV, and the use of water-based lubricant is encouraged to ensure condoms don’t break during sex.

If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, it’s important to seek medical advice as soon as possible. A course of anti-retroviral drugs may prevent HIV infection from becoming established, though these drugs are not 100 percent effective, and must be taken within three days of exposure to the virus.

HIV Testing

A blood test is the only way to diagnose HIV. There are many resources and support networks in Australia for people living with HIV, including the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, which offers articles on treatments and living with HIV.

Protect yourself. Read out recent post, How to Protect Yourself Against STIs.

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