HIV/AIDS Refresher Course

You may have read in the news this week that a doctor in Cambodia caused approximately 106 people to be infected with HIV. This was an unlicensed doctor who ran a clinic without permission from the Ministry of Health. He transmitted the HIV virus to patients by using unclean needles.

In October of this year, Pat Robertson made a comment that “You might get AIDS in Kenya, people have AIDS, you’ve got to be careful. I mean, the towels could have AIDS.” His uninformed remark is not only inaccurate, but it angered Kenyans. His show is popular in Kenya where the population is largely Christian.

It seems that a refresher course on HIV/AIDS is in order. Let’s be clear – you cannot get it from towels but you can get it from infected needles.

Robertson is in a position of great influence. An error such as his sets back health education on HIV/AIDS by decades. Leaders are bound to make mistakes, but Robertson missed an opportunity to correct his mistake and educate others about HIV/AIDS.

What is HIV/AIDS? AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection. It causes damage to the immune system so that it has difficulty fighting off diseases and certain cancers. There is no cure but there is treatment that can keep it under control. People can live with HIV for many years before they develop AIDS with combinations of medicines. And some may never develop AIDS.

HIV infections are found throughout the world. More than a million people in the US are living with the virus. Developing countries may not have the same access to treatment as countries with more options.

HIV is transmitted through contact with blood and body fluids from someone who has HIV. Not feces, nasal fluid, saliva, sweat, tears, urine or vomit – unless there is blood mixed in it and you have direct contact with it. HIV is not spread by sitting next to someone who is infected, touching or shaking hands, sharing eating utensils, swimming in a pool or sharing a shower or tub. It is not spread through mosquito bites.

You can get it through sexual contact or during pregnancy from the mother to her unborn child, or through breast feeding. Or, as a result of IV drug use and unclean tattoo or body piercing tools. HIV is also transmitted through blood transfusion or an organ transplant if it contains infected blood. Healthcare workers are at high risk of accidentally getting HIV from contact with infected needles or cuts or if body fluids are splashed into their eyes, mouth or into an open cut.

There are things you can do to avoid contracting HIV. Never share needles or syringes for any reason. Talk to your partner about HIV before you have sex. Use a new latex condom every time you have sex, and this includes vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Get tested if you have any reason to think you’ve put yourself at risk for HIV. A blood test can show if you the virus. The earlier HIV is detected, the sooner treatment can begin. For more information about HIV/AIDS, call the CDC National AIDS Hotline at 800-342-2437.

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