Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks immune cells – CD4 cells, which are a type of T cell.
Immune cells or white blood cells exist within the bloodstream. They detect abnormalities, infections and viruses within the body. It helps the individual combat against some deadly diseases. Thereby, HIV targets these cells, increasing an individuals risk against more deadly diseases.
HIV is a lifelong infection. However, receiving treatment and managing the disease can prevent HIV from becoming severe and reduce the risk of a person passing on the virus. A severe form of HIV is AIDS.
What is AIDS?
AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. Once HIV develops into AIDS, infections and cancer become a much greater risk.
Thankfully, with advances in ART and Viral Load, the number of people to advance into the complex stages of HIV has reduced by more than half. By the close of 2015, around 1,122,900 people were HIV-positive. To compare, figures from 2016 show that medical professionals diagnosed AIDS in an estimated 18,160 people.
What is Viral Load?
Viral load refers to how many copies of HIV are present in a millilitre sample of blood. Viral load tests show how much HIV is in a sample of blood. These tests are used to check how well HIV medications are working.
Viral load refers to the number of copies of HIV that are present in a millilitre sample of blood. When you do a viral load test, it shows how much HIV is in the blood. This determines how well your HIV medications are working.
The most common HIV medications are ART or Antiretroviral therapy. It reduces the amount of virus in a person’s blood and other bodily fluids. It brings it down to undetectable levels.
What is an undetectable level?
An individual can live a long and healthy life even after being HIV positive. This can be done by keeping yourself in an undetectable viral load. This means that your HIV is very less, thus making you less prone to the virus. Thus, meaning you will have much less damage done to your immune system.
Undetectable = Untransmittable. People who are undetectable and have the bare minimum of HIV, they cannot transmit to others through sex. A shorter version of this is U=U, a message that was created by Prevention Access Campaign. They hope to spread the word about what it means to be undetectable and strip away the stigma attached.
Things to remember:
- Undetectable does not mean you are cured. An undetectable viral load means that there are a few copies of the virus. This means that the virus is still present in your body. Once HIV positive, an individual shall always be HIV positive. That is why it is important for people living with HIV to continue to take their HIV medications even when they are undetectable.
- You will still test positive for HIV if you are undetectable. HIV tests are like regular blood tests and will detect the antibodies in you. This holds regardless of if you are undetectable or not. You need to check if you are undetectable with a viral load test. Frequent checkings need to be done for the same.
- U=U is empowering. The undetectable equals untransmittable message empowers people living with HIV to care for their health by getting to and remaining undetectable, and reduces HIV stigma by challenging the assumption that people living with HIV pose a “risk” to others. This message empowers people with HIV to care for themselves; making sure their health is good and remaining undetectable. This overall movement reduces the stigma HIV has. It challenges the assumption that people living with HIV pose a “risk” to others.
HIV and AIDS though deadly, is an exceptionally misunderstood illness. Such misconceptions cause a lot of stigma which is attached to the people affected.
Here are some ways that you cannot transfer HIV:
- shaking hands, hugging and sharing food
- kissing or bathing
- sneezing or touching unbroken skin or sweat
- using the same toilet. sharing towels or sharing cutlery
- mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or other forms of “casual contact”
- the saliva, tears, faeces, and urine of a person with HIV