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Understanding HIV and AIDS

HEALTH DIALOGUE
What is HIV?
HUMAN Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that enters the human body and slowly weakens the body’s ability to fight illnesses. You start to get sick very often and it becomes more difficult to get better. HIV is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Your body is kept safe from diseases by your immune system. Your immune system is like an army. HIV is like an enemy, which attacks your army. Your army is made up of CD4 cells that act as “soldiers” to fight disease.
The more CD4cells you lose, the weaker your immune system becomes as your CD4 “soldiers” are too few to fight back.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV is passed on in the following way:
• By having unprotected sex (sex without using a condom);
• A mother may pass the virus to her unborn baby during pregnancy, during the delivery of the baby or while breastfeeding;
• Sharing razor blades and other sharp instruments with a person who is HIV positive; and
• By receiving blood that is infected with HIV during a blood transfusion.
What is AIDS?
AIDS is a condition in which a person infected with the HIV virus is no longer able to fight off diseases and gets sick very often and is attacked by opportunistic infections (OIs). OIs are diseases that attack the body when it is weak.
Is being HIV-positive the same as having AIDS?
No, HIV and AIDS are different. HIV makes your body weak and destroys your defence system, which then allows for OIs to attack and cause you to have AIDS.
When first infected with HIV, you may feel no different at all. You can remain healthy and live a normal life for many years with no sickness. This is why it is important to remember that HIV can be passed on through unprotected sex anytime when you are HIV positive.
Can HIV be cured?
HIV cannot be cured. However the symptoms of HIV infection can be treated and managed.
• Nutrition is vital for the body’s health. Eating a balanced diet and many vegetables will help your body to fight off infections.
• Safe sexual practices. Correct and consistent use of condoms every time you have sex prevents transmission of the virus and re-infection in people who already have the HIV in their body.
• Living positively is the most important step for an HIV-infected person. Knowing your status and learning how to deal with it is the first step.
• When your CD4 count drops below 500, anti-retroviral therapy will be advised, even though you may be feeling well.
How can I protect myself and others?
If you are HIV-negative, it is important to protect yourself from HIV infection. If you are HIV positive, you also need to protect yourself from re-infection and protect your partner from infection. You can protect yourself in the following ways:
• Abstinence – This means not having sex. This method is 100 percent effective in preventing HIV infection through sexual contact.
• Be faithful – Make sure you and your partner know your HIV status and are willing to have a mutually faithful relationship. If both of you are HIV-positive, you must use condoms correctly and make sure that you use a new condom every time you have sex.
• Condoms – When used consistently and correctly, condoms, both male and female, prevent the spread of HIV. Learn how to use condoms correctly and make sure that you use a new condom every time you have sex.
• Do not share razor blades and needles – You should never share any skin piercing instruments with anyone.
How can I find out my HIV status?
The only way to know your HIV status is to go for an HIV test. Remember, you cannot tell by looking who is HIV-positive.
It is important to know your status early in order to allow you to begin to live a healthier life and slow the progress of the virus.
Visit your nearest clinic or VCT centre to learn your HIV status.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact: 990health@champ.org.zm

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