The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is responsible for AIDS, a condition that progressively weakens your body’s ability to fight infections. When your body’s immune system is severely compromised, a simple infection can suddenly become life-threatening because the body cannot defend itself. Nowadays, there are effective drugs to manage HIV, ensuring that progression to AIDS is significantly mitigated. You can protect yourself against HIV with one pill every day if you follow the doctor’s advice.
Cause and Transmission
Safeguarding yourself against HIV means understanding how the virus is transmitted from one individual to another.
HIV is a type of virus that attacks the human immune system, specifically the CD4 cells. The human body has several types of cells that help fight invading pathogens and infections. Among these cells are the:
i)T helper cells
iv) Dendritic cells
The above are all considered CD4 cells.
When an organism invades the body, these types of cells and others like them play a crucial role in warding off the organisms. Sometimes, they may simply “wall off” such organisms to prevent them from causing further harm to the body. For example, T helper cells are important for activating other types of immune cells like B cells. B cells secrete antibodies to fight off infections. In addition to this, T helper cells also help activate cytotoxic T cells, causing the latter to destroy cells that are already infected with organisms. Monocytes are a form of immune cells that can turn into macrophages. The latter engulf disease-causing microorganisms.
When HIV enters the body, it attacks the CD4 cells, specifically the T helper cells. The virus enters the T helper cells and uses the cell’s protein-making capabilities to make other viral copies of itself. This goes on for some time until HIV kills the T helper cell by causing it to burst. This process also leads to the release of all the viral copies manufactured. These copies go on to infect other healthy T helper cells, and the cycle continues until the body’s T helper cell population is severely reduced.
HIV is transmitted mainly through:
i)Sexual contact: Having unprotected sex with someone means you can be exposed to the virus in the person’s bodily fluids, including semen, vaginal and rectal fluids, or blood. In rare cases, the virus can be transmitted through oral sex if there are any open wounds.
ii) Blood transfusion: This was the most common cause of HIV transmission before screening became mandatory. Now it is very rare.
iii) Mother to child: During pregnancy and birth, there is a good chance of a mother passing HIV to her baby, especially during the actual process of giving birth. Similarly, breastfeeding can also lead to the baby contracting the virus through the mother’s breast milk.
iv) Through sharp objects: Needles like syringes are also a way of contracting HIV if an infected person used it previously. The same goes for things like tattooing needles.
How to Protect Yourself from HIV
Safeguarding yourself against HIV transmission involves doing several things. These include:
1)Responsible Sexual Behavior
A common reason for HIV transmission is having unprotected sex. This risk is increased if a person has multiple sexual partners with whom they’re having unprotected sex. Faithfulness in a relationship helps to significantly reduce this risk. Using protective measures like condoms and mouth dams for every sexual contact nearly eliminates the risk of transmission.
2) Using Medications
Nowadays, there are drugs to help combat the spread of HIV. These include pre-exposure prophylactic (PrEP) drugs and post-exposure prophylactic (PeP) ones.
PrEP is taken daily to ensure that HIV does not have the ability to invade the T helper cells. When taken daily, it is very effective at preventing HIV transmission. It is especially recommended for those with multiple sexual partners or people working in high-risk settings like medical personnel.
PEP is given to people that may have potentially been exposed to the virus. For example, a surgeon operating on an HIV-positive individual may have had a needle prick during the surgery. They can start taking PEP immediately. Similarly, someone who has had unprotected sex can also start taking PEP to stem the viral transmission. PEP must be started within 72 hours of potential exposure and taken daily without fail for 28 days. The person can then test for HIV to see if the drug regimen was successful at preventing infection.
3) Care for Pregnant Women
Pregnant women who are also HIV-positive must ensure that they attend proper antenatal care. During such visits, the doctor will advise them on what to do and give them the necessary care, including drugs, to help prevent transmission of the virus to the unborn baby. Similar advice will also be given regarding breastfeeding.
Ultimately, a combination of behavioral changes and adherence to the prescribed HIV medications can help an individual avoid contracting this virus.