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HIV infection


HIV or the Human Immunodefiency Virus is the microscopic particle that causes AIDS and other immune system diseases, leading eventually to death of the infected person. It is the reason why sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have become so feared, in that unlike most other STIs which can be treated or have minimal permanent side effects, this virus cannot be cured with antibiotics, has a lot of effects and is deadly.{{more}}

HIV is so far the most deadly STI known to the human race, with an average death rate per year for the last 20 years being 1.0 million, so that about 25 million persons have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS between 1981 and 2006. Unfortunately, two thirds of all deaths, new infections and prevalence occur in sub-saharan Africa. The Indian subcontinent was second, with the Caribbean and Latin America being third. That position was recently reversed, with the Caribbean now having the second highest rate per 100,000. All these societies have a few things in common, namely they are considered third world or developing, they do not practise habitual circumcision, poverty and poor education are rampant (especially in sub-saharan Africa and India) and the use of antiretrovirals and condoms are limited, usually due to social, economic and religious reasons.

The HIV virus is spread by 3 main ways, namely through sexual intercourse, by blood transfusion and from mother to fetus or newborn.

Sexual intercourse: this involves the mixing of body fluids, namely semen and vaginal secretions. Even if ejaculation does not take place, you can still contract the virus from the infected man’s preejaculate or “precum” or from the woman’s secretions. Men or women with ulcers on their genitalia, or who have rough sex with bruising during intercourse are more likely to spread the virus than those who have no bruising during intercourse or those without ulcers on their genitalia. Homosexuals are 3 times more likely to contract it than heterosexuals and uncircumcised heterosexuals are 2 times more likely to contract it than circumcised heterosexuals. Circumcision does not appear to protect uninfected homosexuals from contracting it from their infected partners and vice versa, but the evidence is conflicting, with some studies saying that it does. Interestingly, infected heterosexual men are twice as likely to transmit the virus as uninfected men are to catch it from their infected female counterparts. You can also get HIV from “blow jobs” (the giver is 2 times more at risk than the receiver) even though the risk is low. Yes! And you can get HIV from one episode of unprotected sex. The risk for transmitting HIV through unprotected sex is higher in poorer countries compared to the richer.

Blood transfusion: by blood transfusion I mean all the instances when blood is passed from one individual to the other. The most common method is the actual blood transfusions that occur in hospitals. This was prevalent in the early years after the discovery of the HIV virus, but has now become a rarity, even in developing countries. However, there is still a small risk of transmitting the virus from transfusions, if the infected individual gave blood during the latency period when the HIV virus is undetectable in the blood. This occurs in the first 2-6 weeks after contracting the infection. This risk is, however, very small as potential blood donors are screened by questionnaires before they give blood. Blood transfusion is also implicated in the use of infected needles by drug abusers and the reusing of some medical needles, a practice still prevalent in some third world countries. It is also the means whereby athletes who play contact sports can contract it during the trauma of playing and medical and paramedical personnel can contract it from needle sticks. The infected needle sticks have to be recent, as old needles have dry blood with dead viral particles. The virus cannot live in dry exposed areas. They only live inside living cells. The risk to these exposed professionals is very small, about 0.1-0.3%, compared to 0.67% for IV drug abusers, 25% for mother to baby transmission and 90% chance of contracting HIV after an infected blood transfusion.

Next week I will look at mother to baby transmission and speak of the different types of HIV viruses, as well as look at some basic viral and HIV terms.

For comments or question contact:

Dr. Rohan Deshong

Tel: (784) 456-2785

email: [email protected]