Why World AIDS Day Is Important [Video]

World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day
Courtesy of Ted Eytan (Flickr CC0)
HIV and AIDS are still major issues in our society, but many people don’t know why it’s so important to be aware of them. On December 1 every year, World AIDS Day is celebrated worldwide to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS. It’s important that everyone know how these diseases are spread, how they can be prevented, and what one should do if they suspect that they have them.

What Is HIV?

Did you know that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system? It makes it difficult to fight off other viruses, which means if you have HIV, you could develop an overwhelming number of diseases. This can happen within weeks or months after getting infected with HIV. Although there’s no cure for HIV yet, medicine can help people live longer and healthier lives.

If you do not have access to treatment and prevention services such as condoms or clean needles — or if your partner does not know their status — you’re at risk for getting HIV from them. The good news is: There are ways to prevent this. If everyone knew how important it was to get tested regularly, we could stop transmission entirely.

How HIV Turns Into AIDS

World AIDS Day
Courtesy of Kenn Chaplin (Flickr CC0)
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. If left untreated, HIV becomes AIDS. At that point, the immune system is too weak to fight off many common infections like pneumonia or tuberculosis.

AIDS is a serious illness that can be fatal. It’s caused by HIV, a virus that attacks the body’s cells and slowly destroys its ability to fight off infection and disease. The immune system becomes “acquired” because the body isn’t born with it. It has to learn how to defend itself from foreign invaders on its own as you grow up and get older (usually until about age 60).

World AIDS Day: Signs and Contraction

When someone has HIV but doesn’t know it yet (because they don’t have any symptoms), they’re called “HIV-positive.” People who have no signs of being infected with HIV are said to be “HIV-negative.” This means they’re not infected with this virus even though they could be exposed in some way over time.

Especially if they hadn’t taken precautions against getting infected beforehand. Such as using condoms when having sex with multiple partners or sharing needles while injecting illicit drugs such as heroin into their veins under their skin tissue (skin popping).

People may become infected by having unprotected sexual intercourse without using latex condoms correctly every single time during intercourse and both partners might not know whether either person has been tested before starting having unprotected sex together. Or by sharing injection needles/syringes used for injecting street drugs into one another’s bloodstreams without proper sterilization first. They could be born from an infected mother who carries babies through pregnancy despite knowing she had contracted hepatitis B years ago while giving birth before.

World AIDS Day: It’s Not a Death Sentence

You may think that HIV is a death sentence, but this is not true. Many people who are diagnosed with HIV now take medications that prevent the virus from progressing to AIDS and they lead long and healthy lives.

AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome, which is caused by two types of viruses: HIV-1 and HIV-2. The first is responsible for most cases in Africa and Asia; the second is found mostly in West Africa.

HIV attacks the immune system (the body’s natural defense against disease) by infecting white blood cells called helper T-cells. It then uses these cells to replicate itself quickly, spreading throughout your body until you have no more helper T-cells left to fight off infections or diseases such as cancer or pneumonia. As time goes on without treatment, your body becomes more susceptible to opportunistic infections that can cause death or severe illness if untreated. Because of this danger, many people with HIV must take medications daily so they don’t get sicker over time unless they do something risky like having unprotected sex with someone else who has an STD/STI (sexually transmitted disease/infection).

HIV/AIDS In the US

Still, there are approximately 1 million Americans living with HIV today and thousands more are being diagnosed each year. It’s important to know that you can protect yourself and your community by talking about HIV prevention and testing.

In the United States, men who have sex with men (MSM) account for almost two-thirds of new HIV infections. In addition, African Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV in the United States. Black individuals make up 12% of the U.S. population but account for 44% of new infections every year.

Increasing Issue in the LBGTQ+ Community

HIV is an issue that affects everyone, but it’s especially important to understand how the LGBTQ+ community is at risk. In fact, a recent study found that transgender women were more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors. They’re also less likely to be tested for HIV compared with their cis-gendered (non-trans) counterparts. The same study also found that transwomen face higher rates of poverty and homelessness than other LGBT individuals.

Accordingly, World AIDS Day serves as a reminder of the need for safe sex practices within the LGBTQ+ community — particularly among transgender individuals — and beyond.

World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day is a day to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS. It is also a day to remember those who have died from HIV and AIDS. By raising awareness we can help stop the spread of these diseases and give people with HIV/AIDS a chance at living long and healthy lives.

By Sheena Robertson

Sources:

CDC: World AIDS Day – December 1
HIV:  World AIDS Day
World AIDS Day: About

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Ted Eytan‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Kenn Chaplin‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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