Welcome back to our blog! If you’re new, start off with our welcome post to get acquainted with who we are and what we’re about here on sexualbeing.org. Today, we’ve got an exciting post lined up – it’s our first ever “First Wednesdays” post! In this series, we will dedicate the first Wednesday of each month to take a look at a sexual health subject, ranging from clinical to more abstract, subjective topics!
In today’s post, we will be covering the basics of human immunodeficiency virus, more commonly known as HIV.
What is HIV?
According to the CDC, “HIV is a virus spread through certain body fluids that attacks the body’s immune system…[and] weakens the immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection.” Human beings may get HIV through:
- Sex without a protective barrier (condoms, FC2, dental dams, etc.),
- Blood-to-blood contact (sharing needles)
- From mother to baby (if mom is not getting regular treatment)
There are stages of HIV? What?
Contrary to popular belief, one does not get HIV and automatically feel “sick” or get AIDS. There are three recognized stages of HIV:
- Stage 1: Acute HIV Infection (2-4 weeks after infection)
Many say this stage presents flu-like symptoms, if you feel anything at all. An important thing to note about this stage: you have a large amount of the virus and are considered very contagious.
- Stage 2: Clinical Latency (time varies)
Sometimes called asymptomatic or chronic HIV, this is the stage that most individuals find themselves. Without treatment, it may last about a decade or even shorter. However, with advances in technology, medication, and treatment, many can comfortably live in this stage for several decades.
- Stage 3: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)
An important thing to note is that you may have a high viral load at this stage and be very infectious, but you would not be transmitting AIDS. You would be transmitting the HIV virus. While the earlier stages of HIV weaken the immune system, people with AIDS experience more severe opportunistic illnesses (certain cancers, etc). Common symptoms include chills, fever, sweat, swollen lymph glands, weakness, and weight loss.
Is there a cure?
Sadly, there is no “cure” to HIV and it is a lifelong illness. However, having HIV does not mean that your life is over or that you’re a ticking clock – there are plenty of ways to live a healthy, happy life. In order to control and manage the disease, you must regularly take HIV treatment, which is called antiretroviral therapy (ART).
The greatest advancement for HIV’s image in the public sphere has been the #UequalsU campaign. U equals U is short for “undetectable equals untransmittable”, meaning that if you regularly get ART and maintain a consistent nonviral, or essentially zero, count load (yes, we mean that load), you cannot transmit the disease. We think that’s cause for applause!
How do I talk about HIV?
You may have heard such terms as “HIV positive and negative”, but we want you to think about reframing the way that you discuss HIV. If you do not currently have HIV or AIDS, use the terms “Person(s) Living With HIV” or “PLHIV” to talk about someone who has the illness. When you use terms like HIV+ and you are not in the HIV community, it has a history of stigma and isolation attached to it.
Please note that some individuals who are living with HIV may refer to themselves as “poz” (short for positive), but that you should ask an individual what they’d prefer for you to call them, if you must call them anything. However, our top suggestion for talking about HIV with someone who has it is…don’t!
PLHIV are so much more than the virus and don’t need to be reminded of their status all the time. Try having conversations about other topics because, well, they’re human too. There’s a good chance they’ll enjoy talking about Cardi’s new hair or the state of politics in America more than their personal struggle with a chronic illness. Let them decide when (and if!) they want to talk about it.
That’s it for now…
How did we do? What topics do you want us to cover for future First Wednesdays? Let us know in our survey!