December 1 is World AIDS Day. This day serves to remember those who have died from HIV-related illnesses, shows support, and acknowledgement for people who live with HIV, and reminds us that HIV, while far less deadly than in decades past, is still a medical condition that requires more awareness, research, and public education.
HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, was first identified in 1984. It is a virus that, once in the human body, attacks cells that help fight infection. If an HIV infection is left untreated and becomes severe enough, it can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. AIDS is so dangerous because it severely hinders the immune system’s ability to fight off other illnesses and infections. HIV is spread through contact with infected bodily fluids, often during unprotected sex, or through sharing injection drug equipment.
More than 1 million Americans currently live with HIV. More than 35 million people have died from it, making it one of the most deadly pandemics in recorded history.
Although there is ongoing HIV research, there is no cure. The good news is that today, HIV is easy to test for, either in a clinical setting or in the privacy of one’s home, and medical treatment is available in the form of antiretroviral therapy. This medicine reduces the amount of the virus in one’s system to extremely low levels that allow people with HIV to be healthy and not risk sexual transmission to any HIV-negative partners. One can also avoid HIV by using protection during sex, utilizing pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP (a medicine that reduces one’s risk of contracting HIV), and regularly testing.
There has been stigma against people with HIV/AIDS for years, often founded in ignorance and prejudice. World AIDS Day is an opportunity to remember those who have died from HIV/AIDS and to help reduce both transmission and discrimination present today through the sharing of resources and education.