On the first of December each year, the world commemorates World AIDS Day. It provides an opportunity for people around the globe to remember those who have died of AIDS-related illnesses. We want also to show our support and solidarity with people who are living with HIV. Every year AIDS day focuses on a special theme which this year is ‘Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility’.
What are HIV and AIDS?
The terms HIV and AIDS are often used interchangeably, or in the shorthand portmanteau term HIV/AIDS. They are indeed very closely linked, in that one may lead to the other. Everyone with AIDS also has HIV but not everyone with HIV will necessarily develop AIDS.
What is HIV?
HIV is the acronym for human immunodeficiency virus. It is a virus which attacks the immune cells, that is those cells that help the body to fight infection. The result is to make the body more vulnerable to a whole range of other diseases and infections. First identified as recently as 1981, its ease of transmission quickly made it into one of the deadliest pandemics we have ever known. Since the human body has no effective defence, once HIV has infected a person, it remains for life and, if left untreated, it can lead to AIDS.
What is AIDS?
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the late stage of the HIV infection. It can develop when the body’s immune system is badly damaged as a result of HIV. HIV is generally considered to have developed into full-blown AIDS in the following circumstances:
- The number of a patient’s CD4 cells falls to fewer than 200 per cubic millimetre of blood. The CD4 cells are a type of white blood cell known as T-cells that are one of the mainstays of the immune system, moving around the body finding and destroying bacteria, viruses and other invading germs. The HIV virus targets these cells, destroying them and replicating itself, which can lead to a continued decline of the defensive CD4 cells.
- Regardless of the number of CD4 cells, if a patient develops one or more opportunistic infections such as the herpes simplex virus, salmonella infection, candidiasis or toxoplasmosis among others, they would also be considered to have developed AIDS.
What are the symptoms of HIV and AIDS?
Early symptoms of HIV
One of the reasons that the disease became so virulent is that quite often in the early stages of the first few months. That is, when people are at their most infectious, symptoms are either entirely absent or may be very mild. Many people are completely unaware of their infectious status. So, they have no reason to think they should take appropriate action or precautions. For others, symptoms in the early stages can be quite mild, confined to flu-like signs such as sore throat, rash, headache or a fever.
More severe later symptoms
As the infection progresses, more severe symptoms can develop such as weight loss, swollen lymph glands and fever. Without treatment, more serious illnesses such as cancers and severe bacterial infections can develop. Fortunately, these days, the progress of the disease from HIV to AIDS is not inevitable.
Treatment to prevent progression …
HIV medication can be very effective in preventing the progression to serious illness. It can aswell allow people infected with HIV to live normal lives and survive to the normal life expectancy for non-infected people. Thanks to antiretroviral therapy (ART), HIV has now become a chronic health condition which is manageable, allowing patients to lead long and healthy lives.
… and to protect other people
Not only can ART contain the disease and prevent the development of HIV into AIDS, there are secondary benefits as well. According to the World Health Organisation, an HIV-positive person who is taking ART and is virally suppressed does not transmit the virus to uninfected sexual partners. For this reason, they recommend that ART should be offered to people living with HIV with two aims: to save lives and to contribute to reducing the transmission of HIV.
How can you know if you have HIV?
You may be knowledgeable about the symptoms, you may be aware of whether you are likely to be at risk, but this is not enough. There is only one way to be sure whether you have HIV and that is to get tested. Testing is fairly straightforward and your best initial step is to consult your healthcare provider. There are also support organisations and community action groups throughout Europe that can offer advice about testing and any other information and support that you need. If in doubt, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control offers a European Test Finder that will locate a testing site, wherever you are in Europe.
How IVI can help in the fight against AIDS
As coincidence would have it, ART does not only signify antiretroviral therapy, it also stands for Assisted Reproduction Technology which is of course our speciality at IVI. It may not seem obvious that there is any connection, but in fact for people who have any concerns about HIV/AIDS, there are treatments that can put your mind at rest. Whether both members of the couple are HIV positive or if only one of them is (what we know as a serodiscordant couple) there are reproductive options that will allow them to fulfill their dream, without assuming risk either for themselves or for the baby. As an example, there is a technique known as sperm washing. It works by treating the sperm with a washing technique to ensure that the virus is not transmitted to the baby. With this method, even if the potential father is HIV positive and the mother is not, a couple can still fulfil their dream of a family, and do so with the confidence of safety. If you want to know more about this remarkable advance, do get in touch with us at IVI.
How to support World Aids Day
You can help to support the excellent work of World Aids Day in a number of ways:
- Join an awareness-raising event, many of which happen all around the globe, to commemorate those who have died and to show support for those living with HIV.
- Many people choose to wear a red ribbon, the widely-recognised universal symbol of support and solidarity for people with HIV/AIDS.
- It is an opportunity for groups of people to mobilise their HIV response, support their communities and help to raise funds.
- Join an event to highlight the epidemic and its current state.
Check out the World AIDS Day website for more ideas and information about the activities of the organisation, helping to remind the world that, even though improvements have been made, this is an epidemic that has not yet gone away.