This Sunday is World AIDS Day, an annual day of recognition to fight both stigma and the spreading of HIV/AIDS. In 1988, when World AIDS Day was first observed, contracting HIV was as good as a death sentence. Today, most people with HIV will not go on to develop AIDS and can live long, healthy lives. I believe that information goes a long way when it comes to reducing stigma and spreading of HIV, so I’d like to take this opportunity to share some facts about HIV/AIDS:
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is an infection that damages a person’s immune system. A person who has HIV is typically referred to as being HIV positive. Although there is a stereotype that only gay men can get HIV, anyone can be infected with the virus.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, a condition that develops from untreated HIV which makes simple infections like colds and flu potentially deadly. AIDS can’t be caught, it can only develop from an already existing HIV infection.
HIV is carried in blood, semen, vaginal fluids, anal mucus, and breast milk. The virus can get into your body through cuts or sores in your skin, and through mucous membranes.
The HIV virus can be spread through:
It CAN’T be spread through:
There is no cure for HIV. However, PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) can prevent the virus from fully infecting a person if it’s taken within 72 hours of being exposed to the virus (but ideally within 24 hours).
If PEP isn’t taken within this time limit or it doesn’t work, the treatment changes to focus on making the virus undetectable. It’s still there, but the levels become so low that it can’t do any harm. This treatment is lifelong and means that HIV won’t develop into AIDS.
You can get tested at your nearest GUM (Genito-Urinary Medicine) clinic. This is a free service that offers both walk-in and appointments. The nearest one to the University of Huddersfield is Locala Sexual Health. Getting tested regularly, even if you use protection, is a significant part of looking after your sexual health.
The University Health Centre also offers some sexual health services, but these are much more limited both in thoroughness of the tests and who can use them. For instance, their current sexual health kits are physically unusable for people who have had gender confirmation surgery or a hysterectomy.
No-one should be shamed for their status when it comes to HIV (or any other infection for that matter!). But trying to limit the spread of HIV is a good thing, whether it’s through treatment to give you an undetectable viral load or through being mindful enough of which behaviours are risky and avoiding them.
I wish this was something that had been taught in school. It was actually my involvement in the LGBTQ+ community that helped me to learn more about sexual health and wellbeing in a much more positive and open environment. Everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, should have a space to learn about and discuss sexual health. And nobody should be shamed for their status when it comes to HIV (or any other infection for that matter!).
Condoms are free in the Advice Centre, from the GUM clinic, and from the University Health Centre. If you’re going to inject, never share a syringe. And remember to vote in the general election to make sure services like our local GUM clinic can stay open.