First things first: HIV is a virus and viruses cannot reproduce on their own. They need to transfer from one living organism to another to replicate itself. In general our internal immune system is pretty good at finding and killing viruses that infect us. The problem with the HIV virus is that it attacks our very immune system itself.
How does one get infected with HIV? HIV is passed along from the blood or sexual fluids of an infected person and in the breast milk of an infected mother.
So having sex without using a condom carries the risk of HIV infection; if infected blood enters or is transfused into your body in sufficient quantity you can contract HIV; injecting drugs by sharing a needle with someone who has HIV will give you HIV; an infected mother can transmit HIV to her child during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding.
How do you know when someone has HIV? You don’t … It’s not possible to tell just by looking if someone has been infected with HIV. The only way is to get yourself tested. Some symptoms are similar to other common ailments, but often there are no outward symptoms at all, especially in the early stages.
How do you protect yourself from HIV? Despite large amounts of money spent on research there is still no proven vaccine to prevent HIV. To prevent sexual transmission of HIV, using condoms consistently and correctly is the best form of prevention.
If you inject drugs, try kicking the habit for good. If that’s not an option, don’t share needles or join a Needle Exchange program.
Pregnant mothers should undergo HIV testing and if HIV-positive, they should take antiretroviral drugs which reduce the chances of a child becoming infected with HIV from around 25% to less than 2%.
Healthcare workers should use protective gloves, aprons and goggles and other universal precaution to limit the risk of HIV infection.
So why is HIV so common among gay men? Condom fatigue appears to be the main reason. Some gay men just get tired of using condoms all the time. Which means HIV is not a gay disease at all but can equally apply to heterosexual couples.
HIV transmission knows no boundaries – geographic, socio-economic, gender, age, or otherwise. An estimated 2.5 million people became newly infected with HIV worldwide in 2007.
The least we can do is learn to protect ourselves at all times.