On December 1, 2018, World AIDS Day will have its 30th anniversary. Although U.S. diagnoses declined overall in 2016 (the most recent year for which we have statistics), HIV and AIDS continue to pose a serious health threat. The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “Know Your Status.” In support of the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners in spreading awareness, this post discusses how HIV and AIDS are spread, the importance of testing, and shares basic statistics.
What Is AIDS?
AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Patients only get AIDS if they have human immunodeficiency virus, commonly known as HIV, typically for many years. In patients with AIDS, the immune system is seriously compromised. They are much more likely to get serious infections, such as flu and pneumonia. What’s more, their bodies are unable to fight these infections the way a healthy person’s body can.
How Do You Get HIV?
Scientists still have not discovered how HIV started. They do know, however, how it is spread, which is only via a few specific bodily fluids. These are:
- Semen and pre-seminal fluid
- Rectal fluids
- Vaginal fluids
- Breast milk
If one of these fluids comes into contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue (i.e. a cut), HIV may be transmitted. Mucous membranes are found in the:
The most common ways to spread HIV are anal and vaginal sex without using a condom. You may also be spread HIV intravenously, meaning directly injected into the bloodstream. This does not necessarily mean receiving a blood transfusion from someone who has HIV or AIDS. Donated blood and organs are regularly tested these days. However, sharing needles, syringes, the water used to clean needles, or other items used to prepare drugs for injection may all spread HIV. This is because the virus “can live in a used needle for up to 42 days.” Intravenous drug users are one of the fastest growing HIV populations.
Less Common Ways HIV Is Spread
Although sexual activity and intravenous drug use are the most common ways people contract HIV, there are other scenarios. These are far less common, but still possible. They include:
- Mothers may spread the virus to their unborn child during pregnancy. This may also occur during the birth or through breastfeeding. Testing pregnant women for HIV is much more common, though, dramatically reducing these occurrences.
- Being stuck with a needle or other sharp object contaminated with the virus. Healthcare workers are at the greatest risk here, but it is still extremely rare.
- Oral sex carries little risk although it is possible.
- Blood transfusions and organ transplants could transfer HIV or AIDS, but it is extremely rare in the United States thanks to the testing performed on these items.
Can You Get AIDS from a Mosquito Bite?
No. The only risk is from the bodily fluids mentioned above coming into contact with a mucous membrane or the bloodstream. You also cannot get HIV or AIDS from casual contact with an infected person. This includes hugging, shaking hands, sharing a toilet, and closed-mouth kissing (and only through open-mouth kissing if you both have open, bleeding sores).
You also will not get HIV through the saliva, sweat, or tears of an infected person. The disease does not travel through the air. And no, you can’t get it from any insect that sucks blood, including mosquitoes and ticks.
There were 39,782 HIV diagnoses in 2016. That same year, 18,160 people were diagnosed with AIDS. The following chart demonstrates the most affected populations according to risk group.
Next, we look at the number of HIV diagnoses in 2016 according to age.
How Can You Protect Yourself Against HIV?
Abstinence and not sharing needles are the only foolproof ways to protect yourself against HIV and AIDS. If you do have sex, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and WHO recommend yearly testing for both you and your partner. In addition, always use a condom, but especially with a new partner. Although they’re hardly the most at-risk group, nearly 2,000 people over the age of 60 were diagnosed with HIV in 2016. And remember, that number only represents the number of cases that were diagnosed. The CDC believes that thousands of Americans don’t know they have HIV.
If you use intravenous drugs, never share needles. If you want to get a tattoo, make sure you watch the artist open a brand-new needle. Even if he or she insists the needle has been sterilized, refuse a tattoo using anything but a new needle.
What Does Medicare Cover?
Medicare covers yearly HIV testing for anyone aged 15 to 65, as well as anyone considered high risk. That typically includes men who have sex with other men, but it also includes women who have sex with these men. If you’re worried about your risk, talk to your doctor.
If you have questions about your Medicare coverage, call us toll-free at 855-350-8101 to speak to a licensed agent.
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