Question of the Week

November 27, 2006


December 1 is World AIDS Day.

"Nearly 40 million adults and children are infected worldwide. ... Somebody is infected with the HIV virus every 8 seconds, equivalent to 11,000 infections worldwide every day, while another 8,000 infected people die, the two agencies [UNAIDS and the World Health Organization] said in a joint annual report '2006 AIDS Epidemic Update.' "

Many people in the United States think of AIDS as a disease that affects people in other countries; but in just one recent year (2003), there were 43,171 new AIDS cases reported in the United States, with over 18,000 people dieing of the disease that same year.

AIDS is not in the news in the United States as much as it once was. Teens and young adults in 2006 were not alive (or were too young to remember) when the epidemic began.

"More than 20 years ago, doctors in the United States identified the first cases of AIDS in San Francisco and New York. ... AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV destroys a type of defense cell in the body called a CD4 helper lymphocyte (pronounced: lim-fuh-site). These lymphocytes are part of the body's immune system, the defense system that fights infectious diseases. But as HIV destroys these lymphocytes, people with the virus begin to get serious infections that they normally wouldn't -- that is, they become immune deficient. The name for this condition is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)."

There is no cure for HIV or AIDS. There is only prevention.

"The only known way for the HIV virus to be transmitted from one person to another is when it is spread from the inside of an infected person's body to the inside of another person's body. This can happen when infected fluids ... are passed from one person to another. A person can become infected even if only tiny amounts of these fluids are spread."

If a friend, classmate, or family member has HIV you need to be careful of open wounds, but not casual contact.

"You can't get HIV from hugging or holding hands or from other casual contact. HIV is not spread through sneezes or coughs, and you can't catch it from sitting near someone who has it. Mosquitoes and other bugs don't carry the virus."

It is generally a good idea to use the same level of care when interacting with all people as you would if you knew someone had HIV/ AIDS.

"Asking people if they have HIV is not a reliable way of finding out whether they are infected. People may not answer truthfully. They may be embarrassed to tell you or may not want you to know. Or they may not even know they have the virus because it can take many years for symptoms to develop. An infected person will look healthy for many years and can still spread the virus. The most certain way of preventing HIV infection is by not having sex (abstinence) and by not sharing needles to do drugs."

Even if a close friend gets a cut, use gloves and avoiding all contact with the blood. This will not only help prevent exposure to HIV/ AIDS, it will also help prevent the spread of other diseases such as Hepatitis.

If a person is uncomfortable putting on gloves because it might hurt their friend's feelings.... Not only do gloves protect the person providing medical care from contact with the blood, they also reduce the chances of exposing the open wound to bacteria that may be on the hands of the caregiver.

Even if someone assures you that they don't have AIDS, it is still important to be careful.

"[A]n estimated one-third of those who are HIV positive do not know it."

The only way to know for sure is to be tested.

"Through Dec. 31 [2006], health departments in all 55 counties of West Virginia will offer free HIV tests to patients who visit for STD tests or treatment. The campaign coincides with CDC's new recommendation to routinely offer HIV tests to all people ages 13-64 in clinical settings, said Dr. Loretta Haddy, the state's epidemiologist. ... Results from the blood tests are returned within seven to 10 days, she added. The state will assess data from the two-month campaign to see whether it should continue, Haddy said, noting that the testing will provide a better picture of HIV/AIDS in West Virginia."

It is better to be safe than sorry. If anyone (even a teacher) asks you to do something that you don't think is safe, you have the right to say no and talk with another trusted adult.

"Nearly two dozen students at a middle school in Redwood City will have to undergo blood tests Tuesday for Hepatitis and the AIDS virus because of a science experiment that should never have taken place. ... A substitute teacher let kids use the same needle to pierce their fingers to draw blood to look at it under a microscope. They should have swabbed their mouths [with a clean toothpick] instead. This is the device students used to prick their fingers and draw blood. It's called a lancet. The needle instrument was used during all six periods of a 7th grade science lab. The principal at Kennedy Middle School in Redwood City says as many as 20 students shared only a few needles."

Questions of the Week:
What can you do to help prevent the further spread of HIV/ AIDS in your community? What can you do to protect yourself from becoming infected? How can you know if a friend, significant other, classmate, stranger, or family member is infected? Why should you (or should you not) have access to this information? Who should have an HIV test? How do you know if you should have an HIV test?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site