World AIDS Day is December 1st. This year, the United Nations (UN) is honoring communities that make a difference in AIDS awareness and response. The UN has determined that communities, no matter how big or small, wealthy or underfunded, are what make a difference in the fight against AIDS. Our community here at Kliit is passionate about providing multicultural sexual and reproductive health education for women. Today on World AIDS Day, our goal is to educate you on HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention.
When we think HIV/AIDS, our minds likely still conjure up stereotypes around those living with AIDS. But the reality is, everyone is susceptible—including you. The following is a list of how HIV is transmitted:
Most Common Modes of Transmission
1. Sexual behaviors - Blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk all transmit HIV. People having vaginal and anal sex with an HIV-positive person not using a condom or HIV prevention/treatment medication are at greatest risk.
2. Needle or syringe use - Sharing needles, syringes, rinse water, and other drug injective equipment with an HIV positive person.
Less Common Modes of Transmission
1. Child birth - Pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding in an HIV positive mother who is not being treated with medication may transmit HIV to her baby. Routine prenatal care includes testing all expectant mothers for HIV early in pregnancy, and early treatment with anti-viral medication reduces the risk of transmission, even during a vaginal delivery, to almost zero.
2. Occupational needle sticks - Health care workers are at an increased risk of exposure to HIV through needle sticks.
Extremely Rare Modes of Transmission
1. Oral sex - Using the mouth on the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus.
2. Receiving blood transfusions, blood products, or organ/tissue donations from an HIV positive donor.
3. Deep, open mouth kissing with an HIV positive person who has bleeding sores or gums.
4. Contact between broken skin, wounds, or mucous membranes with an HIV positive person.
Now let’s take a look at how to prevent HIV/AIDS:
1. Abstinence - Avoiding sexual behaviors with another person is the only 100% effective way to prevent getting HIV. For most of us, this is not appealing or realistic. Therefore, we have to implement other preventative strategies to reduce our risk. Use a condom correctly every time you have vaginal or anal sex. If you need a refresher on how to use a male condom, check out this diagram. Female condoms, when used correctly in the vagina, can also prevent HIV. Furthermore, having fewer sexual partners lowers your risk for infection. Finally, receptive anal sex is the most risky sexual behavior for both partners that may lead to HIV.
2. Avoid IV drug use.
3. Taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication - Preventative medication can lower your risk of HIV if you are at very high risk for getting HIV through sex or injectable drug use.
4. Taking post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) medication - This medication must be taken within 72 hours after possible exposure.
A Word on Testing
Screening and testing for HIV is recommended for all people between ages 13 and 64 at least once in their lifetime as routine care. However, if a person has specific risk factors, it is recommended that they get tested once a year. Testing for HIV can be easy and is sometimes free of cost. Check out your public health department or meet with your doctor to get tested.
At the end of 2018, the World Health Organization found that an estimated number of 37,900,000 people are living with HIV. Of that number, 770,000 died from HIV-related complications. Every year, communities great and small are fighting to reduce those numbers. To honor all communities that have fought to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, reach out to your very own community this December 1st and start the conversation. You may save a life.