Today (1 December) is World AIDS Day: an important event in the global calendar, as people around the world offer their support to individuals living with HIV, and remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS-related diseases.
First commemorated in 1988 and founded by the World Health Organisation (WHO), World AIDS Day is held every year on 1 December.
The theme this year is ‘Equalise’, designed to shine a light on inequality and obstructions to HIV testing, prevention, and access to care.
In this blog, we look at why World AIDS Day remains so important, the difference between HIV and AIDS, and how to reduce the risk of passing HIV on to others.
Why is World AIDS Day important?
Although HIV is a relatively recent discovery, its impact on the world cannot be understated.
It is estimated that there are 38 million people living with the virus globally, with more than 35 million people having died of HIV or AIDS-related illnesses since the pandemic began in 1981.
Although significant advances have been made in the treatment of HIV since that time, over 4,000 people are diagnosed with HIV each year in the UK, with stigma and discrimination remaining a reality for many people living with the condition.
For this reason, World AIDS Day remains an important day for raising awareness of the virus, combatting prejudice, and improving education around prevention.
What is HIV?
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that is transferred through bodily fluids including vaginal fluids, semen, and blood.
Although it is commonly viewed as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it can also be spread via blood, including by people who share needles while injecting drugs, and during childbirth.
The virus weakens the immune system over time and, although there are some early symptoms that people can look out for such as fever, headaches, tiredness or fatigue, many people do not display any symptoms at all for weeks, months or even years.
This means that HIV is often passed on by people who do not realise that they have the virus, making education extremely important for preventing the spread of HIV.
What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
There is still a misconception surrounding HIV and AIDS, with many people regarding them as one and the same.
However, it’s important to understand the difference between the two.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that weakens the immune system, affecting the body’s ability to fight infections and disease. The HIV virus can be passed from person-to-person via bodily fluids.
There are three stages of HIV infection. Stage 1, known as primary or acute HIV infection; stage 2, known as clinical latency/chronic HIV infection, and stage 3, known as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
AIDS is the name attributed to potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that occur once the immune system has been severely damaged by the HIV virus.
AIDS cannot be passed on to others.
Reducing the risk of HIV
While there is currently no cure for HIV, advances in medical science including early detection using laboratory testing, and treatment for HIV using antiretroviral drugs, mean that we can stop the virus from replicating in the body, allowing the immune system to repair itself and ensuring the virus remains undetectable.
When HIV is undetectable, the virus cannot be passed on to other people, even while it remains in the body.
This means that individuals living with HIV can have sex without passing the virus on to others. This is known as undetectable=untransmittable (U=U).
For people who engage in unprotected sex, have multiple sexual partners, or who partake in drug use before sex, regular HIV testing is extremely important for ensuring any infection is detected early and can be treated before symptoms develop or become worse.
For further guidance on reducing the risk of HIV infection, visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hiv-and-aids/.
Where can I buy a HIV test?
At AlphaBiolabs, we believe that everyone should have equal access to sexual health testing.
Our home HIV test looks for the presence of HIV antibodies and the p24 antigen early detection marker in a finger prick blood sample.
You can order your test online for £29. Your test kit will be sent out in discreet, plain packaging, and is suitable for people with or without symptoms.
Please be aware, you must be at least 16 years of age to purchase a home STI test from AlphaBiolabs.
IMPORTANT: If you believe you have been exposed to HIV within the past 72 hours, you should seek PEP medication from your local sexual health clinic before ordering a HIV test.
If you are experiencing symptoms that are causing severe pain or discomfort, or that require a face-to-face examination, we advise you to contact your GP or local sexual health clinic as soon as possible.
For more information, call our friendly and discreet Customer Services team on 0333 600 1300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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