by Jacob Correa
Every year on December 1st, we mark World AIDS Day in order to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, show their support for those affected, and remember those who have passed away as a result of it. Today, there are almost 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Of those 1.2 million people, about 14 percent are unaware and need testing.
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. HIV attacks a person’s white blood cells, making it hard to fight off infections. If HIV goes untreated, you run the risk of this very serious virus developing into AIDS, a syndrome in which your immune system is severely damaged. At this point, diseases that wouldn’t usually cause illness in a person with a healthy immune system begin to affect you. Fortunately, HIV can be managed by seeking health care and regularly taking the proper medication. In the United States, people living with HIV/AIDS are able to live long and healthy lives.
How is HIV Transmitted? How Can You Stay Safe?
It is still important to avoid contracting or transmitting HIV. HIV can be transmitted through specific activities such as sexual behaviors (anal or vaginal sex) and needle/syringe use. HIV CANNOT be transmitted by:
- Air or water
- Saliva, sweat, tears, or closed-mouth kissing
- Insects or pets
- Sharing toilets, food, or drinks
One of the best ways to protect yourself from HIV, and all other STDs, is through the use of sexual barriers such as condoms, internal condoms, and/or dental dams. In addition to these protective measures, you should always get tested regularly, even if you use a protective barrier and are asymptomatic.
Disclosing Your HIV Status
If you test positive for HIV, you should always disclose your HIV status to your partner. Disclosing your HIV status to loved ones and/or potential sexual partners can be difficult to do because there is still a great deal of stigma and negative perceptions about HIV. However, you should never feel ashamed to have an open dialogue and educate those closest to you about your status, provided it is safe for you to do so. This could potentially make it easier for you and your partner to talk about the ways you both can engage in safe sex.
Remember, in most instances, choosing who to tell is your personal decision. It’s your choice and your right. (Note: Some states have laws requiring you to disclose your status before sexual encounters, before sharing injection drugs or equipment or before receiving medical care.)
HIV and Relationship Violence
Finally, it’s important to address the intersections of HIV/AIDS and domestic violence. Studies have indicated that survivors with a history of physical and/or sexual abuse are more likely to be living with HIV, especially if that abuse first started during their childhood.
Additionally, people who are in abusive relationship may not be comfortable asking their partner to use protection, or they may not be able to say no to sex if their abusive partner refuses to use protection when asked. This can increase risk of HIV transmission. In particular, stealthing is form of abuse where two individuals will consent to have sex with a condom, but one of the parties will remove the condom without the other person knowing or consenting. If this happens to you, it is important to remember that it is not your fault. Immediately seek medical treatment to determine if you were exposed to any sexually transmitted infections, and then further evaluate the situation to see if law enforcement needs to become involved. You can always contact Day One to speak privately with a lawyer for free. Our legal team will let you know if we can help you, and if not, we will do our best to refer you to someone who can.
What can you do to commemorate World AIDS Day?
The symbol for World AIDS Day is the red ribbon. So you can make and wear a red ribbon on December 1st to raise awareness about AIDS and show your support. You can also share this blog post on your social media accounts to help spread information about HIV/AIDS, safe sex, and stealthing.