Across the country, the week of November 24 to December 1 marked Canadian HIV/AIDS Awareness Week. It’s an occasion to raise awareness surrounding HIV/AIDS issues nationally and culminates in the international observance of World AIDS Day.
December 1 of each year is World AIDS Day, a day dedicated to increasing awareness of HIV/AIDS issues worldwide and an occasion to call upon leaders to honour their commitments in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
December 1st is often marked with a variety of events, including vigils, awareness campaigns and many other activities. World AIDS Day is especially poignant this year as two milestones are commemorated: the 30th year of HIV, with the first reported case documented in 1981 and the Canadian AIDS Society 25th anniversary responding to the epidemic. The theme chosen for the 2011 Canadian HIV/AIDS Awareness Week and World AIDS Day is Do Something.
HIV (the Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Virus Syndrome). All humans are at risk, even if that risk is low. There is no cure and no vaccine, so preventing an infection in the first place is the only way to stay HIV free.
For someone who is HIV negative – that is, isn’t infected – infection can be prevented in several ways.
1. Delay the start of your sex life. Those who are older when they first start having sex are less likely to get infected.
2. Reduce the number of sexual partners and remain monogamous in your relationships.
3. Ask your sex partners if they’ve been tested for HIV and get tested regularly for HIV yourself.
4. Insist on the use of a condom every time you have sex.
5. Protect yourself when you are getting a tattoo or piercing. Make sure that the parlour is clean, that you see the artist take the needles and piercers out of a sealed package, and that the used items are disposed in a container that will prevent their being reused.
If you are HIV positive, you can’t prevent your own infection but:
1. You can and should protect your sexual partners by using a condom consistently and correctly every time you have sex.
2. Reduce your number of sexual partners.
3. Start treatment early.
A recent study showed that early treatment reduced HIV infections by 96 per cent in straight couples where one partner is positive and the other negative. Of course, the responsible thing to do is to disclose your status with your partner(s) if you are infected.
Often people don’t have any symptoms after they’ve contracted the virus. Some people experience flu-like symptoms in the first four weeks, as their bodies try to fight the infection. After that, people have been reported to have no symptoms at all for as long as a decade.
The people who have the virus are, however, more likely to get common infections and develop fungi because HIV attacks their immune systems. They are more likely to develop sexually transmitted infections, rare cancers and fungal infections.
The only way to know for sure that you have HIV is to get tested. Your family doctor can give you this test and develop a plan for treatment, if necessary. HIV is no longer a death sentence. There is a variety of available effective treatments as well as care and support for people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
At the end of 2010, it was estimated that 13,000 people in British Columbia were living with HIV – and about a quarter of them are thought to be unaware that they are infected. “Doing something” to mark this year’s awareness week may be as basic as making yourself aware of the risks of HIV infection and taking the necessary steps to avoid getting the virus in the first place.
Submitted by the Agassiz Community Health Centre