AIDS is a serious, potentially fatal condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging or destroying the cells of your immune system, HIV interferes with your body's ability to effectively fight off the viruses, bacteria and fungi that cause the disease to spread.
This makes you more susceptible to certain types of cancers and to infections your body would normally resist, such as pneumonia and meningitis. The virus and the infection itself are known as HIV. The term Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is used to describe the later stages of an HIV infection.
The symptoms of HIV and AIDS vary depending on the phase of infection. When first infected with HIV, you may have no symptoms whatsoever although it is more common to develop a brief flu-like illness two to six weeks after becoming infected. But because the signs and symptoms of an initial infection - which may include fever, headache, sore throat, swollen lymph glands and rash - are similar to those of other diseases, you might not realise you have been infected with HIV.
Even with no symptoms, you are still able to transmit the virus to others. Once the virus enters your body, your own immune system also comes under attack. The virus multiplies in your lymph nodes and slowly begins to destroy your helper T cells - the white blood cells that coordinate your entire immune system.
You may remain symptom-free for eight or nine years or even longer. But as the virus continues to multiply and destroy immune cells. You may develop mild infections or chronic symptoms such as:
- Swollen lymph nodes - often one of the first signs of HIV infection
- Coughing and shortness of breath
- Persistent white spots or unusual lesions on your tongue or in your mouth
- Blurred and distorted vision
- Persistent, unexplained fatigue
You might get infected with HIV in several ways, including:
Sexual transmission: You may become infected if you have sexual relation with an infected partner whose blood, semen or vaginal secretions enter your body. You may also become infected from shared sexual devices if they are not washed. If you already have another sexually transmitted disease, you are at much greater risk of contracting HIV.
Transmission through infected blood: In some cases, the virus may be transmitted through blood and blood products that you receive in blood transfusions. This includes whole blood, packed red cells, fresh-frozen plasma and platelets. In 1985, American hospitals and blood banks began screening the blood supply for HIV antibodies. This blood testing, along with improvements in donor screening and recruitment practices, has substantially reduced the risk of acquiring HIV through transfusion.
Transmission through needle sharing: HIV is easily transmitted through needles and syringes contaminated with infected blood. Sharing intravenous drug paraphernalia puts you at high risk of HIV and other infectious diseases such as hepatitis. Your risk is greater if you inject drugs frequently or also engage in high-risk sexual activity.
Transmission through accidental needle sticks: Transmission of the virus between HIV-positive people and healthcare workers through needle sticks is low. Experts put the risk at far less than 1 percent.
Transmission through sharing sharp instruments like nail cutters or scissors.
Transmission from mother to child: Each year, nearly 600,000 infants are infected with HIV either during pregnancy or delivery, or through breast-feeding. The rate of mother-to-child transmission in resource-poor countries is up to 40 per cent higher than in the developed world. But if women receive treatment for HIV infection during pregnancy, the risk to their babies is significantly reduced. Combinations of HIV drugs may reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission even more.
You might only get infected with HIV, when infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions enter your body. You will not get infected through ordinary contact – hugging or shaking hands - with someone who has HIV or AIDS.
The idea of being tested for HIV infection is frightening for many people, but remember that testing itself does not make you HIV-positive or HIV-negative. What is more, it is important not only for your own health but also to prevent transmission of the virus to others.
Raising Awareness on AIDS in UAE
Research showed that the UAE is one of the lowest countries with AIDS (HIV) infection rates. However, with the diverse nationalities of expatriates residing in the UAE and the huge developments in the tourism sector, the government has taken a series of measures to raise awareness on AIDS and other infectious diseases.