What is HIV and AIDS?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that, if untreated, can cause AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) now also called, advanced HIV.
In a healthy individual, the body has an immune system that fights infections effectively. HIV attacks the immune system and replicates itself in the body’s immune cells. If untreated, it gradually overpowers the immune system leaving the body vulnerable to infections.
Without treatment, people with HIV eventually progress to AIDS, though this may take ten years or more. However, people with HIV who take effective therapy are unlikely to develop AIDS. That’s why early detection is crucial.
HOW DOES HIV CAUSE AIDS?
Inside the body are numerous cells with different jobs. A type of white blood cells, called CD4 Tcells, help the body stay healthy by fighting off disease. HIV replicates itself in CD4 cells, gradually killing them off, so that over time, the body can’t fight disease any more. When a person with HIV starts getting the range of illnesses associated with immune deficiency – called ‘opportunistic infections’, he or she is said to have AIDS.
HOW IS HIV TRANSMITTED?
HIV is transmitted through penetrative sex (vaginal or anal), blood-to-blood contact(e.g. via blood transfusion or use of sharp infected instruments like syringes, razors…), or breastfeeding from an infected mother.
HIV is mainly present in four kinds of bodily fluids:
· Semen (cum)
· Vaginal fluid
· Breast milk
Unprotected sex (sex without a condom) is the most common method of HIV transmission in Lebanon.
HIV can be transmitted to the fetus during pregnancy and to the infant during birth or breastfeeding, however this might be prevented through effective anti-HIV treatments and consultation with a specialized physician.
Oral sex is classified as a low-risk (but not no-risk) activity for HIV transmission. You cannot get HIV by hugging, shaking hands, or by sharing food or toilet seats.
HOW CAN I AVOID HIV TRANSMISSION?
Avoiding HIV transmission is everybody’s responsibility.
You can protect yourself and your partner/s from HIV infection by using condoms* correctly when you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and by not sharing needles or injecting equipment.
*Most effective condoms must be latex, water-based, electronically tested, not have passed their expiry date, and not have been exposed to extreme temperatures.
STIs and HIV
Diseases that are spread through sexual contact are usually referred to as STDs -sexually transmitted diseases. However, recently, it has been suggested to replace the term STD with a new term—sexually transmitted infection, or STI. Since the most common STDs have no signs or symptoms in the majority of persons infected. Or they have mild signs and symptoms that can be easily overlooked. So the sexually transmitted virus or bacteria can be described as creating “infection,” which may or may not result in “disease.”
Some of the most common STIs are: Chlamydia, Herpes, Gonorrhea, HIV, Hepatitis, HPV- human papilloma virus.
If a person becomes infected with an STI this increases his/her susceptibility to acquire HIV (if appropriate preventative methods haven’t taken place).
The most effective method of preventing an STD/HIV is by using a condom.
SHOULD I HAVE AN HIV TEST?
HIV is relatively rare in Lebanon but there are some circumstances that place you at increased risk of getting HIV. They are the following:
· If you are a man who has sex with men, and you have ever had unprotected anal sex (anal sex without a condom), you should have an HIV test.
· If your sexual partner has HIV, and you have ever had unprotected sex with him or her, you should have an HIV test.
· If you have had unprotected sex (vaginal or anal) with a non-regular sexual partner you should have an HIV test.
· If your current sexual partner has recently travelled to a high prevalence country and may have had unprotected sex there, you should consider an HIV test.
· If you have had unprotected sex with a commercial sex worker, you should have an HIV test
· If you have ever shared injecting equipment you should have an HIV test.
Where Can I take an HIV test?
You can take an HIV test in a medical laboratory, hospital, or Voluntary Counseling & Testing center (see attached list under VCT). HIV test are done free of charge at VCT centers.
What do I do if my test comes back positive?
You may feel shocked and scared by your diagnosis. It’s a big thing to take in. But HIV is not a death sentence, with appropriate medication, care and support an HIV positive individual can live a relatively normal and healthy life.
Talking to a close friend, parent, counselor, VCT specialist can help to explore all your feelings about having HIV. Furthermore, you must visit an infectious disease specialist doctor who will inform you about your treatment options, talk to you about safety precautions, and help you find somebody to talk to about your feelings.
For more information See Treatment Care and Support
What is HIV related Stigma and discrimination?
UNAIDS defines HIV-related stigma and discrimination as :"...a 'process of devaluation' of people either living with or associated with HIV and AIDS...Discrimination follows stigma and is the unfair and unjust treatment of an individual based on his or her real or perceived HIV status."
We must all work hand- in- hand to decrease the stigma and discrimination that People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) face to help pave the way towards their access to prevention, treatment, care, education, work, etc.
For more information on Human Rights and testimonies of People Living with HIV, kindly click on downloadable link "I live my Rights and Respect Other People’s Rights" (by UNAIDS & WHO) in Resources section.