After four decades of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, millions of lives across the globe have been devastated by this disease.
AIDS has been one of the most destructive pandemics in the history of humankind. More than 35 million people worldwide have died of AIDS-related illness. There is an estimated 36 million people currently living with HIV globally.
In Canada, it is estimated that:
While research has led to treatment advances for people living with HIV, the burden of a diagnosis remains heavy. There is still stigma associated with the disease, and HIV treatment is a lifelong commitment that requires compliance with taking medication daily. However, advancements in the treatment of HIV have meant that people living with HIV today can reach an undetectable viral load, and live long, healthy lives with sexual and social freedoms that were once believed to be not possible after an HIV diagnosis.
What Are HIV/AIDS?
HIV is a virus that spreads from person-to-person, through certain bodily fluids that come into contact with the new person.
HIV weakens the immune system by infecting and killing white blood cells. When left untreated and has advanced, the HIV virus then becomes AIDS. Once the HIV virus has reached the AIDS phase, infections and diseases can be fatal. While there is no cure for HIV and AIDS, there are effective ways to prevent, test for, and treat HIV.
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that weakens the immune system. It destroys white blood cells and makes copies of itself in these cells, which are our body’s natural defence against illness.
As the white blood cells are destroyed and more copies of the HIV are made, without treatment, a person’s immune system is broken down. This makes it harder and harder for the person to fight off infections and diseases. If HIV is untreated, it may take up to a decade for the immune system to be so severely damaged that it can no longer defend itself at all. The speed that the HIV progresses depends on a person’s age, health, and background. This final level of infection is called AIDS.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is also referred to as advanced HIV infection or late-stage HIV. AIDS is a set of symptoms and illnesses that develop as a result of advanced HIV infection, which has destroyed the immune system. These symptoms or illnesses is known as the last stage of HIV, or advanced HIV infection, which is ultimately AIDS. When HIV is so advanced that it has transformed into AIDS, and if left untreated, could lead to death.
How Is HIV Transmitted?
A person can contract the virus by having unprotected sex (vaginal or anal) and oral sex with someone who is HIV-positive; receiving a contaminated blood; and sharing contaminated needles, syringes, surgical equipment or other sharp instruments.
HIV is ultimately found in semen, blood, vaginal and anal fluids, and breast milk. It cannot be transmitted through sweat, saliva or urine.