Now that you’ve woken up from the hibernation we all pretend is a nap after thanksgiving dinner – it’s time to get back down to business.
The first day in December marks a very special day for millions of people around the world. Being so close to Thanksgiving, Black Friday madness, and with Christmas (too quickly) approaching this blog has the sole purpose of putting this special day right back into the spotlight it deserves. Everyone, I’d like to welcome to the stage… World AIDs Day.
Yes, I brought up that subject. And guess what? It’s not going away any time soon. So I am making it my personal mission throughout the duration of this blog post to give this day the recognition it deserves. December 1 means much more than a day named after a disease. It is a day for remembrance. It’s a day for those across the world to show support to those who have HIV and to commemorate those who have died in its grasp. It’s a day for the world, as a whole, to come together and unite in the fight against HIV and AIDs.
Where to start? How about with some education?
Time to get all Sherlock Holmes…
It’s time to bust out some of the most common myths associated with HIV and replace those myths with some solid facts you can share at your dinner table during Christmas (seriously, talk about these issues, it’s important for everyone to know).
DISCLAIMER!!: As we go through some of the more complicated matters with HIV there is usually a lot of medical jargon, blah blah blah.. so we’re going to jump straight to the point.
What is HIV and How the Heck Did it Get to the U.S.?
Let’s take a road trip back to West Africa, say around 1920. (Steps into time machine – and we’re off.)
Scientists, at this point, have no idea where the virus has come from at this particular time. Actually, as far as scientists even today know – this disease wasn’t even recognized until about 50-60 years later. But due to absolutely crazy and fantastic advances in the medical world, we have now been able to pinpoint the origin of the first HIV infection to monkeys in West Africa; specifically Chimpanzees (HIV-1) and Sooty Mangabey monkeys (HIV-2).
Chimpanzees hunted and ate two smaller species of monkeys. This in turn caused the chimps to become infected with 2 different strands of SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus; basically, monkey HIV). Because these monkeys were ingesting the blood and meat of the other two smaller species, the two strands combined to make SIVcpz that could be passed on to other chimps – which in turn ended up being the same strain that originally infected humans.
HIV from Chimps to Humans
Let’s talk about the widely accepted ‘hunter theory.’ Humans attracted SIVcpz by doing the same things the chimps did to get their version of this virus; hunting and eating.
Now here’s the kicker – the human immune system was built to withstand several types of invasions, SIV being one of them. But, where the virus usually would’ve been fought off (the immune system), it eventually adapted to survive and thrive in the human immune system. It is evolution at its finest. This adaptation then led to the creation of what disease?
HIV has several strands, or slight differences within the makeup of the virus itself (specifically HIV-1). These slightly different genetic makeups are put into classifications called ‘M’, ‘N’, ‘O’, and ‘P’. HIV-1 Group M is responsible for majority of HIV infections – which is why we’re going to spend the majority of the time focusing on HIV-1 and not so much about HIV-2 (which is very rare and way less infectious than HIV-1, but still a serious problem that many people in West Africa are still dealing with today, unfortunately).
HIV-1 Group M also has a subgroup associated with its particular strand which originated in Haiti back in the 1960’s. Haitian professionals working in Democratic Republic of the Congo from the 1920’s-1960’s, returned to Haiti in the 60’s and this became the first known occurrence of the virus spreading across international waters. HIV-1 Group M subtype B is the most geographically spread subtype of HIV internationally – resulting in over 75 million infections to date.
Stigma and Discrimination
According to avert.com, “HIV-related stigma and discrimination refers to prejudice, negative attitudes and abuse directed at people living with HIV/AIDS.”
Remember how I brought up the spread of the HIV virus to Haiti in the 1960’s? Well because of that, Haitians started receiving their own form of discrimination and stigmatization. According to hivplusmag.com, “That stigma has been with Haiti for 30 years now.”
At the beginning of the HIV epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control created a special ‘4-H’ club of those most susceptible to HIV. The members were homosexuals, Haitians, heroin users, and hemophilicias (who often received blood transfusions). Because of this labeling, these particular groups were singled out and discriminated against for years.
This discrimination and stigmatization was especially hard on the gay community in part because of what HIV was called before it was known as HIV. In the U.S. in the 1980’s it was commonly known as ‘GRID,’ meaning Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. Because of this labeling and the culture that was directly placed on the gay population at this time, many of those same stereotypes are still around today.
Discrimination comes in all forms and the consequences can be life-threatening.
According to avert.org, “Some people are shunned by family, peers and the wider community, while others face poor treatment in healthcare and educational settings, erosion of their rights, and psychological damage. These all limit access to HIV testing, treatment and other HIV services.”
Please remember, anyone can become infected with HIV. Not just certain groups of individuals. Regardless of the way you personally view HIV, or what personal morals you may have regarding sex, please be conscious of the things you say and the attitudes you show towards other people. We can all work together to become a more accepting and understanding people.
We can all do our part to end the discrimination and demoralization of this virus and those who it can effect – meaning ALL of us.
Debunking the Myths, Spreading the Truths
One of the most common misunderstandings about HIV is how it is actually spread from person to person. So we’re going to break this down into five very simple ways that HIV can be spread. If rumors that you’ve heard growing up about how HIV can be spread doesn’t make its way onto this list, it is because it is in fact, a rumor. The most important thing to know is that HIV can be spread from person to person with infected bodily fluids (for example: blood, semen, vaginal/rectal fluids, or breast milk).
5 Main Ways: Everyone Can Get HIV
- Unprotected Sex
What we all assume is probably the most obvious way of transmission, right? With that being said, unprotected anal sex is actually the true No. 1 – so, let’s just all keep ourselves protected during sex – sound good?
2. Mother to Child
This includes pregnancy, labor, and breastfeeding. Thanks to the invention of antiretroviral therapies, it’s actually super rare that HIV is spread this way. In San Francisco, they haven’t had a mother transmit HIV to her child since 2005, and the World Health Organization recognizes Cuba, Belarus, Thailand and Armenia as countries that have eliminated mother-to-child transmission.
3. Injection Drug Use
This is another big one. A lot of people assume “this would never happen to me,” but the sad reality is, this is a very common way HIV is transmitted. Even with amazing advances to try and combat this and the spread of other diseases involving sharing needles, like the needle exchange program, many users share other things besides the syringe itself that can transmit the virus. Even using a clean needle, but dipping it into the spoon which has been infected with the HIV virus, can still transmit onto the new needle and spread to its next host.
4. Infected Blood Donations or Organ Transplants
Though not nearly as responsible for new HIV infections as it used to be (due to some serious protocol revamping with these types of procedures), there is a super slim chance of getting HIV this way in the U.S. if all bases aren’t covered before the procedure takes place. There are very rigid screening tools that are now put into place to avoid this type of transmission of the virus.
5. Healthcare Workers who get infected blood into their body
Also, not nearly as common as probably the top 3 transmission possibilities on this list, but still a real threat. Those who work in the healthcare field, primarily those working with blood and needles, should always be extra cautious when doing so. Needle sticks can lead to a variety of very serious health concerns, which is why strict regulations on having SHARPS containers to dispose of used needles are prevalent all over hospital and healthcare settings.
Okay, so now that we know the most common ways that HIV is spread from person to person, let’s talk about all the ways that HIV cannot be spread. This is where a lot of those previously mentioned rumors will come into play.
You cannot get HIV from:
- Someone who is not already infected with HIV.
- Touching someone who is infected with HIV.
- Sweat, tears, urine, or feces.
- Mutual masturbation. (If you and your partner are using sex toys, always be extra cautious and use a condom with the sex toy and be sure to clean the toy after every use.)
- (So yes, even if a mosquito bites someone who is infected with HIV and then directly bites you afterwards, still no chance of the virus being spread to you.)
- Through the air. This includes coughing, sneezing, and spitting.
- New/Sterilized needles.
- Water, or from drinking after someone. HIV cannot survive outside the host in water.
- Toilet seats, tables, door handles, or even sharing a towel.
- Used condoms. Again, HIV cannot survive outside of the hosts’ body.
- *** Unless the other person who is infected with HIV has large open sores in their mouth, bleeding gums and blood is exchanged between the two of you – there isn’t a possibility of becoming infected with HIV in this way.
- Tattoos and piercings. Always double check on the cleanliness of the facility you plan on getting these types of procedures done at. Talk to your artist or whoever may be doing the piercings and make sure to check that they are using fresh and sterilized needles before beginning.
If you have a partner with HIV or you yourself are currently living with HIV, we always suggest still using a condom. This will keep both you and your partner even that much safer.
It would also be a good idea to talk to your doctor about taking a revolutionary drug called PrEP, which can help reduce the risk of transmission by over 90 percent.
If you AND your partner are currently living with HIV you should still always use a condom. An individual can be infected with multiple strands of HIV and can cause complications with the current treatment you may be on.
If you have any questions or concerns about this topic please consult with your healthcare provider!
For more information regarding HIV or AIDs please visit Avert.org – this is an amazing website with so much knowledge to share. And remember, knowledge is power.
Also, if you’re curious to find out more information regarding World AIDs Day, please visit WorldAIDsDay.org!
Live Well, Live Happy
Other great places to find information!