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The human immunodeficiency virus more commonly refered to as HIV is a sexually transmitted disease though it can aksi be transmitted through the use... HIV/AIDS

by Kimberley Allen R.N.

The AIDS virus attacks the immune system, leaving a person vulnerable to a wide host of life-threatening diseases.

.  It can not be transmitted through kissing, being sneezed or coughed on, sharing baths, towels, or dishes / silverware, using the same toilets or pools including hot tubs, mouth to mouth recesitation or contact with unbroken healthy skin.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies HIV as a pandemic, an infectious epidemic that has spread over multiple continents.  The WHO estimates that there are over 34 million people diagnosed with HIV worldwide.  Worldwide most HIV infections are the result of unprotected sexual contact in a relationship where one of the partners is infected with HIV.  Heterosexual contact as opposed to homosexual contact is the leading method of sexual transmission of HIV worldwide. However, in the US it is homosexual contact, specifically male to male sexual contact, that is the leading method of sexual transmission accounting for 64% of all new cases. Unprotected sex is the leading cause of infection. The second most common cause is through blood and blood products.  IV drug use is the leading method of transmission in this category with 80% of all IV drug users testing positive for HIV.
HIV is a slowly progressing disease that occurs in three stages. In the initial stage or primary infection symptoms similar to the flu or mononucleosis present with in a few seeks of becoming infected and then usually resoves in a couple of weeks.  The second stage is characterized by aperiod of infection that is asymptomatic, in other words there are no symptoms.  Though there are no symptoms the virus remains in the body through this and all stages.  This stage usually lasts an average of 8 to 10 years.  The third stage is when the infection becomes symptomatic and developes into AIDS or acquired immune deficiency syndrome.  During all three stages of infection billions of HIV particles are reproduced daily and are cirrculating in
the blood.  During this time the virus is not only circulating through the blood stream it is also cirrculating throughout the body
in areas like the lymph nodes andbrain as well as genital secretions.
There is still no cure for HIV, however in recent years treatments have improved significantly including the development of an emergency drug known as PEP post exposure prophylaxisis.  If you believe that you may have been exposed to HIV PEP can potentialy prevent you from becoming infected.  However, it must be initiated with in 72 hours of exposure to the virus.  The sooner PEP can be started the better.  PEP is not a morning after pill for HIV.  It is a month long treatment with serious side effects and there are no guarantees.
If you are unaware that you have been exposed to HIV and subsequently become infected the treatment then consists of the use of
antiretrovirals or ARV’s.  These medications work to slow the spread of the HIV virus throughout the body.  Most patients diagnosed with HIV are placed on acombination of ARV’s known as highly active antiretroviral treatment.  A combination of ARV’s is preferred to a single medication because the virus mutates and can quickly adjust and become resistant to a single medication.  Once you have been started on ARV treatment you will need to stay on the treatment for the rest of your life.
Prevention is always better than treatment.  The most effective way to prevent HIV infection is avoiding behavior that puts you at risk. Abstinence is the best, but if that isn’t an option for you it’s important to practice ‘safe sex’, use a condom every time you have sex and never, ever  use a used needle or share a needle to inject drugs.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at