HEALTH – June 2014

What is HIV?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks a type of white blood cell (“T cell”) in your body. The main job of T cells is to protect the body against infections by various pathogens. If an HIV infection goes untreated, the HIV virus gradually depletes the number of T cells in the body, making a person more vulnerable to fungal, bacterial, or parasitic infections. According to the CDC, Hispanics are disproportionately affected by HIV relative to other races and ethnicities. In 2011, Hispanics accounted for 1 in 5 new HIV infections in the U.S.

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

Although HIV can eventually lead to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), not everyone who has HIV has AIDS. This syndrome is characterized by a collection of symptoms that arises due to the lack of immune protection T cells give. In fact, the way HIV is distinguished from AIDS has to do with the number of T cells in the body that are able to fight off infections in an HIV positive individual.

How do you get it?

HIV can be passed from person-to-person through direct contact with infected bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or breast milk. Risk behaviors for HIV infection include sharing needles or having anal, vaginal, and oral sex with an infected person. Although rare, transmission is possible from an infected mother to an infant during breastfeeding. You cannot contract HIV from shaking hands, kissing, hugging or sharing drinks with an infected person. 

Protecting Yourself

Always use condoms if you are engaging in vaginal, anal, or oral sex with partners who may have been exposed to HIV. Never share needles. If you engage in high-risk behaviors regularly, please talk to your doctor about PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis), a recently approved pill that is taken daily to prevent infection.

While HIV does not have a cure, treatment has improved significantly since the 1990s, and most people with HIV infection can expect to live nearly as long as someone without HIV infection if they receive the proper treatment. Early detection is critical, so if you think you may have been exposed, ask to be tested for HIV at your next health care visit. While the results of conventional HIV testing may take a few days, there is a rapid HIV test available that yields same day results. For testing information, call 800-CDC-INFO or text your zip code to KNOWIT (566948) and you will receive a message with the address of a nearby testing site. For more information on HIV and AIDS, visit www.cdc.gov/hiv. 

Marisa Zuluaga is a student of Mexican-Colombian descent born in Southern California. She studied Neuroscience at University of California, Santa Cruz, and attended TuftsUniversity in Boston for her post-baccalaureate studies. Marisa is a first-year medical student and Co-President of the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) at the University of Rochester, a national organization whose mission is to educate and advocate for the health needs of the Latino community. LMSA members, including herself, are looking forward to continuing to contribute to CNY Latino and raising awareness regarding the many health issues affecting the Latinos of Central NY and beyond.

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