How HIV/AIDS is Spread

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HIV spreads through intimate sexual contact and through contact with HIV positive blood and other body fluids. The first step is for the virus to gain entry into the target cell. Once inside the cell the virus will begin to reproduce


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HIV spreads through intimate sexual contact and through contact with HIV positive blood and other body fluids. The first step is for the virus to gain entry into the target cell. Once inside the cell the virus will begin to reproduce.
The ability of a virus to spread from one person to another is referred to as Virulence. The more virulent or violent the virus, the more persons will become infected. HIV has a low virulence factor. It is not violent or aggressive when it attacks its host. It works slowly over a period of time. On average only one in five people are infected from one source.
If we compare this to Malaria for instance we will see that malaria is far more violent or virulent. One person with malaria can infect up to 100 people.
The HI-virus can be found in all body fluids but it is only present in large enough quantities in blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. There is not sufficient quantity in saliva, tears or urine to cause infection. Kissing or putting your tongue in contact with saliva cannot infect you. Contact with the urine of an infected adult or baby will not cause infection.
The HI-virus can do no harm to others as long as it remains inside the body of the infected person. Transmission only occurs when the virus leaves the body of an infected person via blood, semen or vaginal fluids.
In order for transmission to be successful there must be some kind of travel, or way of passing on the virus. This opportunity is provided by any activity that results in the exchange of body fluids between the infected and non-infected person. The most likely way of the virus travelling or being transmitted is through, sexual intercourse, blood transfusion or sharing of IV-needles. These are known as "exit portals", the way the virus has of getting out or leaving the body.
Finally it is necessary for the virus to be able to gain entry into the body of the uninfected person. There are only two ways this can happen.
Firstly it can gain entry through open sores and needle punctures. The virus cannot gain entry through intact or unbroken skin.
Secondly it can gain entry by attaching itself to various membranes (tissue or lining) in the human body such as the lining found on the tip of the penis, inside the vagina, the rectum, or the mouth. This normally occurs during sexual activity.
The HI-virus can gain entry into the human body even through intact membranes. If the membrane is damaged as in the case of vaginal cuts that sometimes occur during sex, entry is much easier and infection more certain.
Mother to child transmission
The HI-virus passes into a baby if the mother is HIV positive during pregnancy. Not all mothers who are HIV positive pass it on to their babies. The risk of passing it on to the baby is greater if, the mother is already ill with AIDS or the mother becomes infected or re-infected during pregnancy.

Pregnant women should be extra cautious during this period and be certain of the HIV status of their sex partners.
If a woman does not know her partner or she is intending to have casual sex when pregnant, she is inviting serious problems for herself and her baby. If in doubt women must remember they have the responsibility and obligation to protect the unborn child.
The HI-virus can be passed to the baby through breast milk if the mother is HIV positive. Since 1991 when the first antenatal survey was conducted the prevalence or rate of occurrence among pregnant women has escalated from 2% to almost 25%.
Progression of HIV-infection
Once a person is infected a primary or first infection results within 4 to 12 weeks. While the immune system learns to deal with HIV, the virus is able to reproduce to very high levels over a period of several weeks. The number of CD4 cells in the blood drops because they are used up in fighting the virus concentrating there.
The disease then goes into a dormant or sleeping period and there are no real signs or symptoms visible. During this stage of the disease, the HI-virus continues its slow but steady increase. This is an incubation, dormant or sleeping period. Even though the virus is dormant it continues to do its deadly work in the body of the infected person. This can carry on for many years with the HIV positive person showing no symptoms of the disease. The common period is between 8 and 10 years. During this period, while a person may not show any symptoms they are capable of transmitting the disease.
Eventually, the CD4 count drops so low, that the immune system can no longer function effectively, resulting in an increased incidence of life-threatening opportunistic infections, and eventually death. The timing and opportunity are right for the disease to take over totally. The viral load or quantity has now become much higher. The immune system is severely damaged and open to many different infections.
Personal advice
HIV/AIDS is spread when infected body fluids pass from one person to another. To avoid infection use a condom, this will prevent the exchange of these infected fluids.
Written by: W D Squire
Contact Des on 011 884 5456 or [email protected]

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