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Living with HIV
Living with HIV
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Living with HIV

You’ve probably heard the terms HIV and AIDS used together, which may have led you to believe they are the same thing, but in reality they are different. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV is considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI) because it can be spread through certain sexual behaviors. This means that HIV cannot be spread through behaviors like shaking hands, hugging, playing sports, sharing food, or kissing. When someone is living with HIV, the virus begins to attack the immune system, which can make someone more likely to get sick from other germs. It can take many years for someone with HIV to develop AIDS, and some people who are HIV positive never develop AIDS. While there is no cure for HIV, there are medicines that can help people live long and healthy lives. It’s important to know that you may not know if you have HIV and you cannot tell if someone has HIV just by looking at them. The only way to know for sure if a person has HIV is to get tested for HIV.

FAQs

Can I get an STI from kissing?

Herpes is the only STI that can be passed through kissing. This usually happens when one person has a sore on or around the mouth and then kisses another person. It can also happen during a select number of days throughout the year when the virus is more active in a person’s body and when they may have no symptoms at all.

How can you avoid getting an STI?

Using a barrier method like a male or female (internal) condom and/or dental dam every time you have any type of sex can prevent the spread of STIs.

Since many STIs can be spread not only through bodily fluids but also through skin to skin contact of the genitals, it’s important to have regular screenings for STIs, even for those who always use condoms.

Later in life STIs can lead to serious health problems, including forms of cancer, if they are left untreated, so once people are sexually active they should have regular tests for STIs including pap smears, even if they don’t have any symptoms.

What’s a condom?

A condom is a thin piece of latex, polyisoprene or polyurethane that is worn over the penis during oral, anal or vaginal intercourse to prevent pre-ejaculatory (pre-come) fluid or semen from entering a partner’s mouth, anus or vagina. Condoms can be made of latex, polyisoprene, polyurethane and natural skin, but only latex, polyisoprene and polyurethane condoms prevent the transmission of HIV and STIs.

In South Africa, young people are entitled to access contraception, including condoms, from the age of 12 without the consent of their parents. They are available for sale at chemists or free at places like local clinics, doctors offices and sometimes in public toilets.

Can I get HIV from sharing drinks or food with my friends?

No. HIV is not like the common cold or the flu. You cannot get it from sharing food or drinks with someone who has HIV. It also cannot be spread by shaking hands, kissing or hugging. HIV is spread through exposure to an infected person’s blood, semen, vaginal fluids or breast milk. It is most commonly transmitted through sexual contact, sharing needles with someone who is infected or breastfeeding if the mother is HIV positive.

How do I prevent HIV?

When someone is sexually active (whether having penile-vaginal, anal or oral sex) it’s key to practice safe sex by using a barrier method like a condom and/or a dental dam each and every time you have sex.

People who are having sex should also get tested regularly for HIV and other STIs and ask your partners to do the same.

When does HIV become AIDS, and will you die from it?

When people are first infected with HIV, they often have no symptoms or very mild symptoms, which is why they must get tested to know for sure if they have HIV. Later, the virus can weaken the immune system, allowing specific infections and diseases to occur and for the virus to become AIDS.

Not all people with HIV develop AIDS. It’s impossible to say how someone’s body will respond to the infection, and there are different strains (kinds) of HIV. Over time most people with HIV get a weakened immune system that makes them more susceptible to infections and diseases that people with healthy immune systems typically don’t get.

This is why it’s important to have regular tests for HIV once you become sexually active. The earlier someone learns they are HIV positive the sooner they can begin taking medications (called anti-retrovirals or ARVs) that help to manage their viral load and keep them as healthy as possible.

Is it possible to manage HIV?

Absolutely. With regular visits to the doctor or clinic and a lifestyle that includes medications (called anti-retrovirals or ARVs), healthy diet and exercise, someone who is diagnosed as HIV positive can manage the virus and live a happy and fulfilling life.

One part of living with HIV is learning to be open and honest with sexual partners so that plans can be made for protection, understanding viral loads and preventing the transmission of the virus.

The initials HIV and the acronym AIDS are often used together, leading people to believe they are the same thing when in reality they are different. HIV is the virus that can cause AIDS, and AIDS is the illness that can occur later when the immune system is no longer able to fight off infections like it is supposed to. HIV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can be transmitted from someone who has HIV to another person through certain sexual behaviours. Despite many myths that exist, the truth is that not all bodily fluids transmit HIV. The bodily fluids that can transmit HIV are semen, vaginal fluid, blood and breast milk.

When someone first acquires HIV, they usually do not show any symptoms. This is why getting tested regularly is important. If someone is tested and they do have HIV, there are many medications that can help treat the symptoms of HIV and allow someone to live a healthy, symptom-free life for many years.

It is common for young people to hear many myths about HIV, so having a trusted adult in their lives that they can talk to about this topic is important. There is also a lot of stigma around living with  HIV. It’’s essential to provide young people with medically accurate and age-appropriate information so that they can be supportive of people living with HIV or if they have HIV, so that they have the information that they need to lead healthy lives.  .

Even though most people don’t like to talk about HIV, it is important for caring adults to talk with young people about HIV transmission,prevention, and treatment before they begin engaging in sexual behaviors with a partner. While it is good to normalize HIV and STIs, it is also important to be clear with young people about how HIV and STIs can affect them, the people they care about, and why it is important to practice safer sex.

Before young people begin engaging in sexual behaviors, they should know how they can reduce the risk of acquiring HIV once sexually active by getting tested for HIV,  properly and consistently using latex barriers, like male or female condoms and dental dams every time they have sex, and decreasing the number of sexual partners,. Research shows that young people whose parents talked to them about condoms before they began having sex are more likely to use condoms at first intercourse and thereafter.

It’s also very helpful for young people to know how to get tested once they begin having sex. HIV and other STI testing and treatment is offered through  clinics and health centers. Home testing kits are now available in most major pharmacies as well. HIV testing often involves either a simple blood test or a mouth swab. Young people should understand that HIV can be treated with medicines provided by a doctor, but that there is no cure for HIV.

Young people may also have questions about a medicine called PrEP, which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is a daily pill that can be prescribed to help reduce the risk of acquiring HIV. In studies it has been shown to be highly effective when used properly. This medication is often prescribed for individuals who are considered to be at particularly high risk of HIV.

Talking about HIV with the young people in your life lets them know that they are not alone and they can come to their parents or guardians when they have questions or need support.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

If you start essential conversations about topics like HIV with your children, then they will know they can come to you with questions. The easiest way to start these conversations is to talk about issues as they arise in everyday life while you are doing things like chores, watching TV together, or walking or driving.Symptoms, testing and condoms may not just come up in conversation, but it is important to talk about these issues.

Here are some ways to start these conversations:

Broach the topic when there is a sex scene in a show or movie.

For example, if a sex scene comes up on TV, there is an opportunity to talk about whether the partners talked about safer sex or used a latex barrier, like a condom or dental dam. While you may be nervous about having these conversations, a simple, “Wow, do you think they’re worried about STIs or HIV?” is one way to start the conversation.

Walk up the aisle where condoms are when you’re shopping in a pharmacy

If you are shopping together in the market or pharmacy, walk up the aisle where the condoms are located and ask your child if they know what condoms are and how they are used. Purchase a pack to take home and open so your child can see what they look like and how they are used.

FAQs

Try broaching these topics while doing something related to them

For example, while at the doctor’s office for your child’s checkup, you can talk to your child about the Gardasil vaccine, which protects people from certain types of HPV—a sexually transmitted disease.

Talk to your child when a sex scene comes up on TV

If a sex scene comes up on TV, there is an opportunity to talk about whether the partners talked about safer sex or used a latex barrier, like a condom or dental dam. While you may be nervous about having these conversations, a simple, “Wow, do you think they’re worried about STDs?” is one way to start the conversation.

While at the drugstore, you can ask your child if they know what condoms are

If you are shopping in the market or a drugstore together, walk up the aisle where the condoms are hanging and ask your child if they know what condoms are and how they are used. Purchase a pack to take home and open so your child can see what they look like and how they are used.

Broach the topic when there is a sex scene in a show or movie

For example, if a sex scene comes up on TV, there is an opportunity to talk about whether the partners talked about safer sex or used a latex barrier, like a condom or dental dam. While you may be nervous about having these conversations, a simple, “Wow, do you think they’re worried about STDs or HIV?” is one way to start the conversation.

Walk up the aisle where condoms are when you’re shopping in a pharmacy

If you are shopping together in the market or drugstore, walk up the aisle where the condoms are hanging and ask your child if they know what condoms are and how they are used. Purchase a pack to take home and open so your child can see what they look like and how they are used.