What is HIV and AIDS?
HIV is an acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus
and AIDS is an acronym for:
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
HIV is a Lentivirus (related to Retrovirus) and is a sexually transmitted infection, but can also be spread from infected mothers to their babies who are breast fed and IV drug users who share their equipment.
In the early 80’s in America a number of gay men had an illness, who had a reduction in number of CD4 T-Helper Cells. The immune deficiency was initially called GRID by the media. Most cases had a rare form of pneumonia and Kaposi sarcoma was reported in the US CDC MMWR magazine.
HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and if untreated leaves the persons immune system unable to defend itself the virus does this by invading, replicating in and destroying a type of white blood cell called T-helper cells or CD4 cells.
HIV was co-discovered in 1983 by American Robert Gallo and French investigators Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, each giving the HIV virus a different name, but in 1986 the name HIV was decided upon. Margaret Heckler an American announced that Robert Gallo had discovered the virus.
The most famous people to have died from AIDS were Anthony Perkins, the actor who played Norman Bates in the film Psycho, Kenny Everett a British comedian and probably most famous of all Freddie Mercury, who sung for the group Queen. Queen’s music can often still be heard even now. However, if you are American both Rock Hudson and Liberace also died from AIDS.
An issue was discovered regarding blood donations, the most famous being factor eight taken from donated blood and given to haemophiliacs so that their blood would clot. Blood transfusions were also affected, until donations were screened for any type of infection.
In 1987, the Government created a public information film (we have added English subtitles) and leaflet. You can view the video and leaflet in the link below.
Don’t die of ignorance
Two TV programmes were also recorded in the same year, you can view them here, with added English subtitles:
First AIDS – a programme presented by Mike Smith with views of AIDS doctors, popular actors of the time and a studio audience.
AIDS Your choice for life – was another programme presented by Mike Smith with Vicky Licorish, this programme has no audience.
Despite being discovered decades ago there is still no cure for HIV, but if you are in a high risk group, there are possibilities.
PEP – Post-Exposure Prophylaxis
If you realise you have had sex with a partner who is HIV+, you’ve woken up with the worst hangover and can’t remember who is in your bed! or perhaps you have been raped, there is medication available to help prevent you becoming HIV+ this medication is called PEP. You need to visit your A&E department ASAP. When you register at reception, you should tell them you need PEP. If your worried about saying that, you could always write it down on a piece of paper and give your personal information, such as your name and address normally.
You may have to provide a blood sample and visit your local GUM Clinic as soon as possible, as you may only be given a FIVE day dose of PEP at A&E and need to attend a GUM Clinic so that you can be given the rest of the course of treatment. It’s important that you do get a full 28 day course of treatment. You may also be given additional HIV and STI tests to make sure that the medication has worked and if you have any other STIs. The medication is called Truvada (emtricitabine and tenofovir) and raltegravir, one has to be taken every 24 hours and the other every 12 hours.
Once the 28 days have past, you should attend your GUM Clinic for further testing, you may need to re-visit once the “window period” has past. This is the length of time which it takes for the virus to be testable in your blood. It could take two months before you find out if the medication has worked. But it is worth getting the treatment!
If you have a partner who is HIV+ or perhaps have sex in saunas, or dark rooms (where you might not be able to see if the person has a condom on) you should ask at a GUM Clinic about you being able to be given the treatment called PrEP but if it is not possible to start quickly, you should continue to try and use condoms as best as you can. If you visit saunas or dark rooms, it would be well worth giving them a miss until you have started PrEP and it has kicked in. Remember PrEP can only be given to people who are HIV- so it is well worth remaining negative until PrEP treatment can begin.
Treatment for HIV
If you are HIV+ (which might be expressed as being “positive”, “HIV+”, “HIV+ve” or “poz”) then there is treatment for the condition called ART (Antiretrovial therapy) which works by lowering your HIV level and help to improve your immune system.
As there is treatment available for HIV, should you find you are HIV positive, the sooner you start ART the better.
You can become undetectable and not pass on the virus, but this could take around 6 months.