One of the worst epidemics of the last century is still among us. In fact, 1.2 million Americans are still living with this devastating disease today. It’s not Covid-19, it’s HIV.
HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, has killed over 770,000 people since 1981, and it continues its terrifying legacy today. The good news is that even after 40 years, we can still do a lot to stop it.
Let’s talk about how HIV spreads, why we need to stop it, how to prevent the spread of it today!
Why We Need To Stop HIV From Spreading
HIV is one of the most serious illnesses that mankind has fallen victim to. In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, having an HIV diagnosis was essentially a death sentence. Now, they call it a “life sentence”.
That’s because while we haven’t cured it, and we’re far from having serious treatments available, people are able to live a lot longer with the virus. However, your quality of life will be drastically reduced, and that’s the best-case scenario. That is if the virus is caught early enough and you can afford all of the treatments, time off of work, and more. Once you have it, you have it for life.
Most people have to take between 1 and 3 pills a day at the start, but that number goes a lot higher. The virus itself attacks your immune system, making your ability to fight off other infections severely weakened over time. That means that even a common cold could be devastating to your body if it can’t fight it off.
Some people, later in their life, will have to take dozens upon dozens of pills and supplements at the exact right times just to keep their bodies going, and will still find themselves in and out of hospitals for the rest of their lives.
How HIV Spreads
HIV spreads very simply. You will never have to worry about giving someone with HIV a hug or sitting on the same toilet seat as them. It isn’t the flu, it isn’t Covid-19, and it isn’t a joke.
HIV only spreads through blood.
If you’re wondering why a sexually transmitted disease (STD) could only spread through blood, it’s because semen and vaginal secretions do contain blood. Any blood-based bodily fluid can transmit HIV. That includes blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. Saliva or mucus alone will not transmit HIV, but if they contain blood (which is common), they can.
How To Stop The Spread
We all know by now how to stop the spread of Covid-19 but this pandemic has been going on a lot longer. If you have HIV or have a loved one with HIV, there’s a lot you can contribute to stopping the spread.
If you’re thinking that by now, everybody is aware of HIV, you’re more or less correct. However, getting the information on how to stop the spread of it, how it’s transmitted, and why it’s so important that everybody does their part is an important step in the right direction.
Making any kind of change always starts with awareness.
Also, if you use drugs, if you know people who use drugs, or if you work in a facility that is related to drug use, you have a unique opportunity when it comes to slowing the spread. Spread awareness to those most vulnerable to this disease, and let them know the role they play in stopping the spread.
Sharing needles is never safe. If you use any kind of drug that relies on needles, this puts you at serious risk for HIV, Hepatitis C, and many other infections. Spread this information to anybody who can use it.
If you have HIV, you need to tell people this. If you’ve shared needles with somebody or had sexual encounters with them, they need to be aware immediately. The longer this is put off, the more people they could be infecting. If somebody shares needles with you, they likely share them with others, too.
If you’re about to engage in some kind of sexual practice with anybody, they need to know this upfront. There are other people with HIV who look for partners with it, but there are different strains of the virus that can cause more complications to people with others, so condoms and dental dams are a must.
Needle Exchange Programs
This is not a super popular option, but any nonprofit or government organizations, as well as any doctors’ offices or hospitals, should be doing this.
If you run an organization or facility that can manage a needle exchange program, then, by all means, do it. People who use opioids and other substances are going to continue to use them until they get treatment. That is just a given fact.
However, the opioid epidemic does contribute in large part to the HIV epidemic. It just isn’t talked about as much anymore. The good news is that if there is a needle exchange program, it doesn’t have to contribute anymore.
How does it work?
It’s simple. People show up, drop their used needles in a safe deposit box meant for sharp objects and they grab new ones. Free of charge and free of questions. This way, people will be able to grab enough clean needles to pass to others who are using drugs. They’ll be using them either way, so why not make it a little safer for them and everybody else around them?
Bloodborne Pathogens Trainings
As we already mentioned, HIV can only be transmitted through blood and blood-based bodily fluids. Therefore, people need to understand what to do when there is blood.
Nobody wears a tattoo on their forehead saying “I have HIV”, so it’s best to assume that everybody does and treat any pathogens as if you know that there is HIV present. Learn more about how to take these trainings and get anybody who may need them involved!
If you are worried that you could have been infected, the time to get tested is now. It’s scary, but absolutely necessary. Contact anybody you’ve had sexual contact with immediately after to let them know the results.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis is for people who think they could be exposed to HIV, and it’s one of the best pre-exposure treatments out there. This is common in the gay community, as it was hit the hardest from the start of the HIV epidemic.
Unfortunately, HIV is still prevalent in the gay community, but it can come from any sexual encounter. If you’re sexually active, especially if you have multiple partners, you may want to find out if PrEP is right for you.
This means condoms and dental dams. Birth control, IUDs, and other methods of preventing pregnancy will do absolutely nothing to preventing the spread of HIV.
Every time you have penetrative sex, there should be a condom used. If there is oral sex, there still needs to be a barrier between one person’s mouth and the other’s genitals if you want to lower the risk of infection.
If you are having sexual intercourse or anything that involves penetration or mouth-to-genitals, there needs to be protection, whether or not you have a diagnosis. It’s different if you’re in a relationship and both parties have been tested and cleared, but if you’re just meeting somebody, it’s best to stay safe. Think of it like wearing Covid face coverings, except this disease has been going on longer and is far more lethal.
Alternatively, you can try “outercourse”, as opposed to intercourse. If you and a willing partner want to engage in sexual activity but don’t have a condom available, you can safely use other parts of the body without risking infection. Anything that isn’t penetrative or that doesn’t make contact between oriphices will be safe from infection.
Even if you cannot find a needle exchange program, find the proper sharps deposits. Those are almost everywhere now and for good reason. Walking down the street and winding up with a sharps injury is bad enough, but getting an HIV diagnosis from it is a lot worse. Find the right locations to deposit these needles and do so diligently.
Keep Yourself Safe
HIV is one of the scariest diseases still around today, and you should do everything you can to protect yourself and those around you from it. Spread awareness, take the training, and keep arming yourself with knowledge!
Working with a lot of different people puts you at the most risk for all types of diseases, so be sure to find out about the risks of bloodborne pathogens in retail and keep up to date with our latest news!