The recent news on the data leak on individuals with HIV infection has reignited interest in HIV.
In particular, there have been calls to avoid discrimination of HIV individuals in the workplace and reduce the stigma associated with HIV.
What is HIV?
3d rendered HIV Virus in Blood Stream
HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and this virus attacks the immune cells (T cells) in the body, leading to a depressed immune system and increased susceptibility to infections.
HIV is a sexually transmitted disease
HIV is spread through contact with blood and body fluids from an infected individual. The virus is found in blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk.
It can be spread through:
- Unprotected vaginal and anal sex.
- Oral sex, especially if there are wounds or ulcers in the mouth.
The risk of transmission is higher through vaginal and anal sex and is lower with oral sex.
HIV can also be transmitted through blood and blood products
Sharing needles through intravenous drug use carries a high risk. It is also possible to catch it through contaminated needles from tattooing.
For health care workers, there is also a risk of acquiring HIV through needlestick injuries, though the risk is small.
HIV can also spread from mother to child. Blood transfusion with contaminated blood is also a risk factor but all blood for transfusions in Singapore is screened for HIV.
Who is most at risk?
If you have multiple sexual partners and practice unprotected sex, you are most at risk of catching HIV.
Practise safe sex to reduce your risk of HIV
This risk of spread is higher in individuals who have a high viral load, as there is a greater amount of the virus in the blood and body fluids.
As HIV is most commonly acquired through both heterosexual and homosexual contact, it is important to practice safe sex.
Having a monogamous relationship and regular use of condoms can reduce the risk of acquiring HIV.
Can HIV spread through social interaction with an HIV individual?
The answer is no! HIV is not transmitted through handshakes, sharing of meals and cups and even social kissing. HIV is not transmitted through saliva.
Outside the body, the HIV virus has a short life span
The HIV virus cannot survive outside the body for long and is this is affected by factors such as surrounding temperature, ultraviolet light and pH balance.
It is also not an airborne disease so the risk of catching HIV from the environment is remote. You also cannot catch HIV from an insect or mosquito bite.
Fear and ignorance lead to stigmatization. A better understanding of how HIV is transmitted can help to reduce the stigma associated with HIV.
1. Shaw, George M and Eric Hunter. “HIV transmission” Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine vol. 2. Nov 2012.
2. German Advisory Committee Blood (Arbeitskreis Blut), Subgroup ‘Assessment of Pathogens Transmissible by Blood’. “Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)” Transfusion medicine and hemotherapy. May 2016.