Worldwide, most of the people with HIV and AIDS are heterosexuals. But in North America, Western Europe and other developed nations, most cases continue to be transmitted sexually between men. In the United States, according to a recent report, most cases of recent HIV infection continue to be among gay men. This information also indicates that the rate of new HIV infections is relatively stable (it is not going down). Most cases of HIV transmission among gay men continue to occur through unprotected anal intercourse. Some gay men are also becoming infected through sharing drug needles.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that damages the body’s immune system. The immune system is made up of group of cells and organs that keep the body healthy by fighting viruses and infections. CD4 cells, also known as T-helper or T-cells, are one of the primary types of cells in this process. When someone is infected with HIV, the virus uses the individual’s CD4 cells to multiply. As a result, the cells are damaged and unable to function properly to keep the individual healthy. Over time, the number of healthy CD4 cells declines. When HIV has destroyed enough of the body's CD4 cells, an individual can be diagnosed with AIDS - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. This diagnosis means that the body’s immune system is no longer able to effectively fight off illness. Because of these other illnesses, an individual may become very sick or possibly die.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is the diagnosis related to the later stages of HIV infection. This diagnosis must be made by a health care provider, and is based upon several criteria. First, the individual must be infected with HIV. Next, either blood work shows that the person's T-cell count is less than 200 cells per cubic centiliter of blood or the person has been diagnosed with one of several diseases, known as opportunistic infections, that do not affect those with healthy immune systems.
Soon after infection, flu-like symptoms may be experienced, although some individuals will experience no symptoms. During the period between infection and AIDS diagnosis, there may be no other symptoms. For those infected with HIV, symptoms sometimes related to AIDS include unexplained weight loss or tiredness, flu-like feelings that don’t go away, diarrhea or white spots in mouth. There is a simple test that can determine if someone is infected with HIV, and only a doctor can diagnose someone with AIDS.
HIV Antibody Testing
There is currently a test to find out if you are infected with HIV. The test looks for the presence of HIV antibodies, the body's attempt to fight off the infection. Unfortunately, it may take up to three months after infection for enough antibodies to be present for an accurate test. This period of time is known as the window period. During this period the test could provide a false negative, even though that person being tested could still transmit HIV to someone else. There are many locations in the area to obtain HIV antibody testing, some of which offer HIV Rapid Testing, a new test that can offer results while you wait. Click here for testing sites.
Without treatment the time between infection with HIV and an AIDS diagnosis is about 10 years. There are very effective treatments to slow down this process. However, there is currently no cure for HIV. A doctor can run specific blood tests to identify which treatments will be most effective for someone infected with HIV. It is very important for individuals with HIV to enter care as soon as possible. Appropriate treatment is a critical part of maintaining good health for a long, long time.
As with other viruses, HIV lives inside the body of someone who is infected. Because of the virus’ need for CD4 cells to reproduce, it is highly concentrated in certain body fluids, blood, semen (including pre-ejaculate) in men. When these body fluids are exchanged in a way that may allow for entry into someone else's bloodstream, there is the possibility of HIV transmission. Traces of HIV can be present in other body fluids like saliva and mucous, but not in sufficient concentration to transmit the virus. Abstinence along with avoiding injection drug use and sharing needles are the only 100% effective methods of preventing HIV transmission. If you're sexually active, sign-up for FREE STD testing reminders via email, text or both every 3 or 6 months at WeAllTest.com. If We All Test, we can help eliminate syphilis and other STDs in our community!
The most common ways HIV is transmitted in gay men are:
The best way to prevent infection is not to engage in behaviors that involve risk of transmission, primarily sex and drug use. However, if you or your partner are unsure of your HIV status, and still choose to engage in activities that do involve risk, there are still ways to reduce the amount of risk.
- Unprotected anal sex
- Sharing drug-injecting equipment, including needles and works
Sex - Using latex condoms and plenty of water-based lubricant during anal sex can greatly reduce the risk. While not 100% effective, most studies show that consistent and correct use, make them almost 98% effective. Although the risk of HIV transmission during oral sex is significantly less, it may still be possible, especially if you or your partner have cuts or sores in the mouth or have had recent dental work. Again, using a latex barrier, a condom or dental dam, when performing oral sex can further reduce the risk. Getting screened and treated for STDs is also a way of reducing your risk.
Injection drugs, including steroids - Not sharing syringes or other injecting equipment is the most effective way to reduce the risk of transmission. If sharing equipment, using bleach and water to clean the equipment can offer some protection. For syringes, an effective method includes rinsing the syringe three times with water, then three times with bleach and then three more times with clean water. If you want it, there is also support to help reduce or stop using drugs all together. If you or someone you know thinks that they might have been exposed, please click on the link below for testing sights.