WHAT DOES “AIDS” MEAN?
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome:
Acquired means you can catch it; Immune Deficiency means a weakness in the body’s system that fights diseases.
Syndrome means a group of health problems that make up a disease.
AIDS is caused by a virus called HIV: Human Immunodeficiency Virus. If you get infected with HIV, your body will try to fight the infection. It will make “antibodies”, special molecules that are supposed to fight HIV.
When you get a blood test for HIV, the test is really looking for these antibodies. If you have them in your blood, it means that you have HIV infection. People who have the HIV antibodies are called “HIV-Positive”.
Being HIV-positive, or having HIV disease, is not the same as having AIDS. Many people are HIV-positive but don’t get sick for many years. As HIV disease continues, it slowly wears down the immune system. Viruses, parasites, fungi and bacteria that usually don’t cause any problems can make you very sick if your immune system is damaged. These are called ” opportunistic infections”.
HOW DO YOU GET AIDS?
The blood, vaginal fluid, semen, and breast milk of people infected with HIV has enough of the virus in it to infect other people. You can get HIV from anyone who’s infected, even if they don’t look sick, even if they haven’t tested positive (yet). Most people get the HIV virus by:
- Having sex with an infected person.
- Sharing a needle (shooting drugs) with someone who’s infected.
- Being born when the mother is infected, or drinking the breast milk of an infected woman.
- Getting a transfusion of blood from an infected blood donor used to be a way people got AIDS, but now the blood supply is screened very carefully and the risk is extremely low.
There are no documented cases of HIV being transmitted by tears or saliva, but it is possible to catch HIV through oral sex, especially if you have open sores in your mouth or bleeding gums.
In the United States, there are about 800,000 to 900,000 people who are HIV-positive. Over 300,000 people are living with AIDS. Each year, there are 50,000 new infections. In the mid-1990s, AIDS was the leading cause of death. However, newer treatments have cut the AIDS death rate significantly.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I’M HIV POSITIVE?
You might not know if you get infected by HIV. Some people get fever, headache, sore muscles and joints, stomach ache, swollen lymph glands, or a skin rash for one or two weeks. Most people think it’s the flu. Some people have no symptoms.
The virus will multiply in your body for a few weeks or even months before your immune system responds. During this time, you won’t test positive for HIV, but you can infect other people.
When your immune system responds, it starts to make antibodies. When you start making antibodies, you will test positive for HIV.
After the first flu-like symptoms, some people with HIV stay healthy for ten years or longer. But during this time, HIV is damaging your immune system.
One way to measure the damage to your immune system is to see how many CD4+ cells you have. These cells, also called “T-helper” cells, are an important part of the immune system. Healthy people have between 500 and 1,500 CD4+cells in milliliter of blood.
Without treatment, your CD4+ cell count will most likely go down. You might start having signs of HIV disease like fevers, night sweats, diarrhea, or swollen lymph nodes. If you have HIV disease, these problems will last more than a few days, and probably continue for several weeks.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE AIDS?
HIV disease becomes AIDS when your immune system is so damaged that you have less than 200 CD4+ cells or you get an opportunistic infection. There is an “official” list of these infections, put out by the Centers for Disease Control. The most common ones are:
- PCP (Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia), a lung infection;
- KS (Kaposi’s sarcoma), a skin cancer;
- CMV (Cytomegalovirus), an infection that usually affects the eyes;
- Candida, a fungal infection that can cause thrush (a white film in your mouth) or infections in your throat or vagina.
The AIDS syndrome also includes serious weight loss, brain tumors, and other health problems. Without treatment, these opportunistic infections can kill you.
AIDS is different in every infected person. Some people die soon after getting infected, while others live fairly normal lives for many years, even after they “officially” have AIDS.
IS THERE A CURE FOR AIDS?
There is no cure for AIDS. There are drugs that can slow down the HIV virus, and slow down the damage to your immune system. But there is no way to get all the HIV out of your body.
There are other drugs that you can take to prevent or to treat some of the opportunistic infections (OIs). In most cases, these drugs work very well. The newer, stronger anti-HIV drugs have also helped reduce the rates of most OIs. A few OIs, however, are still very difficult to treat.
AIDS STATISTICS FOR JAMAICA
- In Jamaica, it is estimated that 32,000 persons are living with HIV and as many as 50% are unaware of their status.
- The most urbanized parishes have the highest cumulative number of reported HIV cases: Kingston & St. Andrew – 1570.1 cases per 100,000 persons, and St. James – 2094.6 HIV cases per 100,000 persons.
- The total number of reported AIDS cases in Jamaica between January 1982 and December 2011 is 16,264. The total number of reported AIDS deaths in Jamaica between January 1982 and December 2011 is eight thousand four hundred and ninety eight (8,498).
- The cumulative AIDS case rates are higher among males (689.3 cases per 100,000) compared to females (504.9 cases per 100,000 females).
- Although the epidemic affects more men than women, over time females are accounting for an increased proportion of the AIDS cases that are reported annually.
DATA AND PUBLICATIONS ON HIV/AIDS IN JAMAICA
Source: The National HIV/STI Programme, http://www.nhpjamaica.org
“Jamaica Takes Measures to En- sure the Sustainability of its Re- sponse to HIV”. World AIDS Campaign. Web. 07 Oct. 2013.
ARTICLES AND FEATURES FROM JIS
RESOURCES FROM JIS RESEARCH DEPARTMENT
You can visit our Research Department between the hours of 8:30 am and 5:00 pm Monday to Thursday and 8:30 am to 4:00 pm on Fridays to use any one of the following publications:
- Morrissey, Michael (editor). Challenging HIV/AIDS: A New Role for Caribbean Education. Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2010.
- Howe, Glenford and Alan Cobley (editors). The Caribbean AIDS Epi- demic. Jamaica: UWI, 2000.
- Richards, Sandra. “Breaking the Silence: Maturing Our Attitudes to Sex”. Nex Generation. No.2 (2010) p. 14
- Best, Curwen. “Caribbean Music and the Discourses of AIDS” Small Axe: A Journal of Criti- cism. No. 3. (March 1998)p. 49-63.
- Tourism Sector HIV/AIDS Work- place Policy June 2007. [CD- ROM]
- Wanted: AN HIV/AIDS Work- place Policy. [DVD]