HIV-Aids myths and facts

FROM January 1984 to November 2016, a total of 1,932 Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)-Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (Aids) related deaths were recorded by the Department of Health (DOH) in the Philippines. Not much as the dengue-related deaths, but the increasing amount of people infected is still alarming.

First, what is HIV? And what is Aids?

According to the DOH, HIV is a virus that attacks the body's immune system, then causes the deadly Aids. Aids, on the other hand, "is a condition characterized by a combination of signs and symptoms caused by HIV. It makes the afflicted individual susceptible to other life threatening infections."

Despite information being disseminated since 1984 when HIV-Aids became a concern, misconceptions still prevail. Among them, that a person can acquire HIV-Aids through air, sharing of towels, kissing, sharing of utensils, and through mosquito bites.

Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) Chief of Clinics Ricardo Audan clarified these myths about the deadly HIV-Aids during an interview with SunStar Davao.

"HIV is spread only in certain body fluids from person infected with the virus. These fluids are blood, semen, pre-seminal fluids, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk," Audan said, and this means the virus can only be transmitted through unprotected sex, sharing of needles, breastfeeding, infected blood transfusion, and other activities that an infected body fluid can be transferred from a person to another.

Only the mosquito's saliva is injected into humans when a mosquito bites and thus HIV positive blood that a mosquito may have previously ingested is never transmitted to other humans. Unlike mosquito-borne diseases, HIV is unable to replicate within the mosquito's gut and therefore is broken down.

Audan also clarified that HIV can only be transmitted while kissing if the infected person is suffering from mouth sores and ulcer. Otherwise, it will take eight liters of saliva to transmit HIV through kissing.

Davao City Health officer Dr. Josefina Villafuerte, in a separate interview, said if a person makes a sexual contact with an infected individual, it will take at least three months or more to know if that person is certainly infected or not. This is called "window period."

There are some infected individuals who are asymptomatic, which means those people has no symptoms of HIV infection. During this phase, the immune system in someone with HIV slowly deteriorates, but the person still shows no symptoms. How long this phase lasts depends on how quickly the HIV virus copies itself, and how the person's genes affect the way the body handles the virus.

"Some people can go 10 years or longer without symptoms. Others may have symptoms and worsening immune function within a few years after the original infection," Audan said, adding the most common Aids-related deaths come from the worsening of Tuberculosis (TB) and Pneumonia.

Audan said that people infected with HIV who seek treatment in SPMC had risen for the past few years. These records are confidential.

Statistics released by the DOH showed 51 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) with HIV-Aids were reported in November 2016, comprising seven percent of the total.

Most number of modes of transmission of reported deaths came from male-to-male sex, averaging to 874 from January 1984 to November 2016, followed by sex with both males and females (489), male-female sex (480), injecting drug use (43), mother to child (16), and blood transfusion (9).

Audan said the best way to prevent the incurable virus is the ABCDE: A for abstinence, B for being faithful, C for correct and consistent use of condoms, D for don't use drugs, and E for early detection or treatment.
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