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How Does HIV Spread?

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Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that targets immune system cells, making an individual more susceptible to various illnesses and infections. HIV can cause AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) if left untreated. Currently, there is no complete cure found for HIV, but patients can survive with this condition with the help of modern anti-retroviral drugs.

How does HIV spread? It is transmitted through sharing injection needles or through direct contact with the bodily fluids such as blood, seminal fluids and vaginal fluids, of an infected individual.  Unprotected sex with an infected individual can be a leading trigger for HIV. That is why protections like condoms play a key role in ensuring safety.

Here are some of the popular means of HIV transmission explained in details:

  • Sexual transmission. HIV is mainly spread via sexual interaction with an infected partner. During sexual activity, the virus enters the body through the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum, or mouth.
  • Blood contamination. Blood contact with an infected person can potentially spread HIV. The danger of contracting HIV from blood transfusions, however, is incredibly minimal because blood is screened for signs of HIV infection.
  • Needles. Sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-use supplies with an HIV-positive person is a common cause of HIV transmission. While we never support substance abuse, we want you to make sure of using a fresh needle every time to get a tattoo or take a vaccine shot.
  • Mother-infant. Babies born to or breastfed by moms who are HsIV-positive can potentially contract the infection.

Unlike what some people believe, the virus CANNOT be spread through:

  • Saliva
  • Sweat
  • Tears
  • Casual contact, such as sharing food utensils, towels, and bedding
  • Swimming pools
  • Telephones
  • Toilet seats
  • Biting insects (such as mosquitoes)

How fast does HIV spread in the body?

HIV-positive individuals may show symptoms of infection months or years after becoming infected. Although the interval between HIV infection and the beginning of AIDS can vary significantly, around half of HIV-positive individuals experience the onset of AIDS within ten years.

A person who contracted HIV goes through the following stages of developing the disease:

  • Seroconversion illness. Seroconversion sickness can pass unnoticed in some people because it is so mild.
  • Asymptomatic HIV stage. Most people feel well after seroconversion and don’t have any symptoms. This stage, which is frequently referred to as the asymptomatic stage, can extend for many years.
  • Symptomatic HIV stage. The longer you go without an HIV treatment, the higher is your chance of contracting diseases associated with a compromised immune system, including some malignancies and HIV-related complications.
  • Late-stage HIV. You may get significant opportunistic infections and malignancies if HIV completely damages your immune system.

Medicines that prevent the spread of HIV

Taking HIV prevention medication after a potential exposure is known as PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis). It is beneficial for any HIV-adjacent person.

It is best to begin PEP as soon as possible. PEP is usually taken every day for 28 days if it is prescribed to you. Here are some of the things you should know more about taking PEP:

  • PEP is administered following a potential HIV exposure.
  • PEP is not a replacement for consistent use of other HIV preventive measures.
  • PEP is not the best option for those who might be often exposed to HIV.

Meanwhile, you should discuss pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP drugs) with your physician if you are continuously at risk for HIV because of over-exposure to individuals with the virus.

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