HIV and AIDS explained in relatively simple terms

A lot has changed since HIV and AIDS first became a household name back in the 1980s. 

A lot has changed since HIV and AIDS first became a household name back in the 1980s. Now, instead of dragging sufferers through hideous illnesses before eventual death, HIV is a completely manageable condition.

But HIV and AIDS are still an enigma for many people, and so much is still misunderstood.

Probably the first thing many people don’t know is that HIV and AIDS are not the same thing. HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that slowly attacks the body’s immune system, making it harder and harder for HIV positive people to fight off infections and diseases.

Once the immune system of someone who has HIV reaches a very low level — it normally takes about ten years without treatment — patients may develop AIDS (auto-immune deficiency syndrome).

People who develop AIDS will begin picking up what are called opportunistic infections, which include things like pneumonia, skin cancer, or thrush. Since the body can no longer fight off these infections they can lead to death.

In short, it’s not actually HIV or AIDS that kills anyone, per se, it’s other diseases and infections that are caught due to having a very weak immune system.

One very important point to make is that nowadays, with the advancement of HIV medication, people who are on treatment — this usually involves taking just one or two pills a day — will remain healthy and keep healthy immune systems. They will never develop AIDS and will not die from the virus.

On top of being able to live long and normal lives, today’s HIV medication also allows HIV carriers to have such low levels of the virus in their bodies that it is effectively undetectable, which means that they are no longer a risk to anyone around them, especially their lovers, partners, husbands or wives.

Men and women who are HIV positive are also able to have children without the risk of passing on the virus during pregnancy and birth.

HIV is mainly passed on by having unprotected penetrative sex with someone who has the virus and is not on medication. It is not passed on by sneezing, kissing, hugging, touching, sharing a bath or sharing cups.

Medication for HIV has come such a long way, just over the past five years, that people with the virus are now in a much better situation that before. There are even trials being conducted on monthly or two-monthly injections that can suppress the virus as well or better than daily medication.

Now the hope is that people’s understanding of HIV and AIDS will increase so that more people get tested, more people get on medication as soon as possible, and more people who are not affected can understand and support those who end up picking up the virus, for whatever reason.

A world with less HIV, and with more understanding of HIV, will be a better place for everyone.

Special Reports