Tuesday, August 30, 2011

HIV/AIDS: Frequently Asked Questions


What is HIV / AIDS?
            H – Human: because the virus can only infect human beings
I – Immuno-deficiency: because the effect of the virus is to create a deficiency, a failure to work properly, within the body’s immune system.
V – Virus: because the organism is a virus, which means one of its characteristics is that it is incapable of reproducing by itself. It reproduces by taking over the machinery of the human cell.

A – Acquired: because it’s a condition one must acquire or get infected with; not something transmitted through the genes
I – Immune: because it affects the body’s immune system, the part of the body which usually works to fight off the germs such as bacteria and viruses
D – Deficiency: because it makes the immune system deficient (makes it not work properly)
S – Syndrome: because someone with AIDS may experience a wide range of different diseases and opportunistic infections.

  1. What are the symptoms of HIV/AIDS?
There are usually no HIV symptoms for many years. That is why it can be hard to know if you have HIV

AIDS symptoms appear in the most advanced stage of HIV disease. In addition to a badly damaged immune system, a person with AIDS may also have:
-          thrush – a think, whitish coating of the tongue or mouth that is caused by a yeast infections and sometimes accompanied by a sore throat
-          severe and frequent infections
-          quick loss of more than 10 pounds of weight that is not due to increased physical exercise or dieting
-          long periods of frequent diarrhea
-          frequent fevers and/or night sweats
-          rare forms of pneumonia and cancers

  1. How long does it take for HIV to cause AIDS?
Currently, the average time between HIV infection and the appearance of signs that could lead to an AIDS diagnosis is 8 – 11 years. This time varies greatly from person to person and can depend on many factors including a person’s health status and behaviors. Today there are medical treatments that can slow down the rate at which HIV weakens the immune system. There are other treatments that can prevent or cure some of the illnesses associated with AIDS. As with other diseases, early detection offers more options for treatment and preventative healthcare.

  1. Where can I get a test for HIV?
Tests are available from hospitals, health clinics and social hygiene clinics, often free of costs.

Ideally, parents of an adolescent below 18 years of age should accompany him/her to the health clinic provider to give consent. However, if this is not possible, the health service provider should allow the adolescent to provide his/her own consent for the medical intervention after pre-test information has been provided in a way so that the adolescent can easily understand the implications of an HIV test.

  1. How is HIV/AIDS transmitted?
These are the main ways in which someone can become infected with HIV
-          Unprotected penetrative sex with someone who is infected
-          Transfusion of contaminated blood or blood products, and using infected injection equipment
-          From an HIV-infected pregnant woman to her baby; this can occur during pregnancy, at birth and through breastfeeding. In the Philippines, although HIV prevalence among adult population remains less than 0.1%, HIV infections are increasing. The predominant mode of HIV transmission is through sexual intercourse. In 2008, 65% of newly reported HIV infections involved male-to-male sex. However, it is important not to stereotype. It is essential to understand that it is a behavior, not a sexual orientation or association with a specific group which puts a person at risk.

7. How long after a possible exposure should I be tested for HIV?

The time it takes for a person who has been infected with HIV to test positive for HIV antibodies is 3-6 months, which is commonly called the “Window Period”.

8. Is there a cure for HIV/AIDS?

There is currently no cure for HIV and AIDS. But there are treatments for people living with HIV in the Philippines.
The treatment is designed to strengthen the immune system to keep HIV from developing into AIDS or to relieve AIDS symptoms. Thanks to this treatment for HIV, people are now to live with HIV for many years. New treatments and research may help people live even longer.

9.      Is HIV always fatal?

Since there is currently no way to get rid of HIV from the body once someone is infected, most people with HIV will probably still have the virus when they die.
HIV is always thought of as an incurable, fatal illness, and it certainly can be – especially once a person’s immune system is weakened to the point that he or she has AIDS. Without treatment, it takes an average of 10 years for someone who gets HIV to develop AIDS. Some people get AIDS much more quickly, while others do not get it until much later.

10.   Is kissing a route of HIV transmission?

Kissing (even open-mouth kissing) is a very low risk activity in terms of HIV transmission. HIV is only present in saliva in very minute amounts, insufficient to cause infection with HIV.

11. Can you get HIV from a mosquito?

No, it is not possible to get HIV from mosquitoes. When taking blood from someone, mosquitoes do not inject blood from any previous person. The only thing that a mosquito injects is saliva, which acts as a lubricant and enables it to feed more efficiently.

12.  Can I become infected with HIV through normal social contact or activities such as shaking hands,  toilet seats, swimming pools, sharing cutlery, kissing, sneezes and coughs?

No.  HIV is not an aiborne, water-borne or food-borne virus, and does not survive for very long outside the human body.  Therefore ordinary social contact such as kissing, shaking hands, coughing and sharing cutlery does not result in the virus being passes from one person to another.
If students or teachers in a school are infected with HIV, they can continue their regular life as they did before acquiring the infection.  Everyone should be careful not to stigmatize and discriminate against people living with HIV.

13.  Can I become infected with HIV from needles on movie/cinema seats?

There have been a number of stories circulating via the Internet and e-mail, about people becoming infected from needles left on cinema seats and in coin return slots. These rumors appear to have no factual basis.

Sexually-Transmitted Infections (STIs)

  1. What are STIs? How is it different from HIV/AIDS?
STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are infections that are passed on through close body contact or the exchange of body fluids. Many people who have an STI don’t have any obvious symptoms or signs, so it’s important you get the facts about how they are spread, how to avoid infections, understand the risks if left untreated, and know what to do if you think you may have one.

   2.  What causes STIs?
Like other infections or diseases, STIs are caused by the spread of organisms like viruses, bacteria or parasites. STIs caused by viruses include hepatitis B, herpes, HIV and HPV (human papillomavirus). STIs caused by bacteria include Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis.

3.  How common are STIs?
Unfortunately, STIs are more common that you would think. STIs are particularly common amoung young people aged between 15-29 years who make up about three quarters of reported STIs.  Most STIs can be easily cured with the medicine prescribed by a doctor.
4.  Do STIs lead to long-term damage?
If left untreated STIs can lead to serious and painful health consequences, ranging from infertility to cancer.  For example, chlamydia and gonorrhoea can cause inflammation and scarring of the fallopian tubes in women which could leasd to infertility.  In men, the same complications might occur in the tubes leading from the testicles which could also cause infertility problems, though it's much less common.  Syphilis can cause blindness, brain damage and heart disease.  These three infections are easy to test for and to cure.  It is really important that people with STIs are diagnosed early so they can receive proper treatment and avoid ongoing health problems and spreading the infection.

5.  Do STIs have symptoms?
Many people with an STI have no symptoms whatsoever,  and they can only be diagnosed through testing.  If signs and symptoms are present they may include things like:
  • unusual discharge from the penis, vagina or anus
  • itchiness around the genital area
  • a burning sensation when peeing
  • a rash, sores or small lumps on or around the penis, vagina or anus
  • unusual bleeding from the vagina e.g. after sex or between periods
  • pain and swelling inthe testicles
  • pain during sex
  • sore throat
  • swollen glands, fever and body aches
  • unexplained fatigue, night sweats and weight loss
6.  Who can get STIs?
Anyone can get a secually-transmissible infection, but they most common in people between 15 and 29 years of age.  The risk gets higher if you have had many sexual partners.  If the person you're having sex with has had many sexual partners or has injected drugs, your risk of infection is also increased.  The chances of having unsafe sec increase if you're drunk or using drugs.

7.  Can you tell if someone has an STI?
No, lots of people who have an STI don't have symptoms and may not even know they are infected.  Anyone who is or has been sexually active can have an STI.  You can't tell by the way they look, their cultural background, sexual orientation, number of secual partners or preferred type of sexual activity.  The only way to make sure you or your partner doesn't have an STI is to talk to your doctor about a test.  STI testing and treatment can be provided at health centers and clinics.

8.  Can I catch an STI through masturbation?
There is no risk associated with self-masturbation.  However there is a very low risk of getting STIs through mutual masturbation.  Herpes and genital warts can be passed through hand and genital contract with open sores or cuts.  Hepatitis B and HIV can also be caught through hand or finger cuts that come into contact with infected sperm, vaginal fluids or blood.

9.  If I have oral sex,  can I get an STI?
Unprotected oral sex can spread some STIs, particularly herpes.  Bacterial infections like gonorrhoea and syphilis can also be spread through oral sex.

10.  Are HIV and STIs  equally serious?
Most STIs can be easily cured with medicines prescribed by a doctor. On the other hand, even if HIV is also sexually transmitted, once a person is infected with HIV, he/she will remain infected for life. Treatment is available, but there is no cure yet. While an HIV-infected person can live a productive life, after years and possibly decades the immune system will fail, the person will eventually develop AIDS and die.

11. Is there a connection between HIV and STIs?
HIV and other STIs can impact upon each other. The presence of STIs in an HIV infected person can increase the risk of HIV transmission. This can be through a genital ulcer which could bleed or through increased genital discharge.
An HIV negative person who has an STI can be at increased risk of becoming infected with HIV through sex. This can happen if the STI causes ulceration or breaks in the skin (e.g. syphilis or herpes), or if it stimulates an immune response in the genital area (e.g. Chlamydia or gonorrhoea). HIV transmission is more likely in those with ulcerative STDs than non-ulcerative.

12.  Where can I get more information?

"Dial a Friend' Hotline
        Foundation for Adolescent Development, Inc. (FAD)
        Tel nos: (632) 525-1743   (632) 525-1881 (Mon-Fri, 9 am to 6 pm)

 HIV/STI Hotline
        Remedios AIDS Foundation, Inc. (RAF)
        Tel no: (632) 524-0551 (Tue-Sat, 9 am to 6 pm)


UNAIDS. Living in a World with HIV. Information for UN system personnel and their families.  Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS 2009. 2nd reprint, December 2009.

User's Gude to the Power of You Video.  UNICEF Philippines. September 2009.


Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is the virus that causes AIDS.  It attacks the body’s immune system. By weakening the body’s defences against disease, HIV makes the body vulnerable to a number of potentially life-threatening infections and cancers.  HIV is infectious,  which means it can be transmitted from  one person to another. 
If left untreated, HIV will almost always deplete the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to one or more life-threatening diseases that normally do not affect healthy people. This stage of HIV infection is called AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.  The more the immune system has been damaged, the greater the risk of death from opportunistic infections (infections that take advantage of weaknesses in the immune system).[1]
In the Philippines, HIV epidemic can be described as low and slow in comparison with other countries, like in sub-Saharan Africa. The number maybe incomparable with other countries, but the uprising rate of occurrence is significantly alarming.

 Accordingly, from year 2003-2008, HIV diagnoses in the Philippines achieved a three-fold increase in its prevalence and still continuing over the subsequent years. It is noticeable among men particularly to people who belong to the third sex group (bill continuing over the subsequent years. It is noticeable among men particularly to people who belong to the third sex grisexual and homosexual). Also, the average age of people diagnosed positive  with HIV decreased from approximately 36 to 29 years old. Here are significant statistics:
-          There are 174 new HIV cases reported in December 2010 that add to the total infections to 1,591. The highest added cases since 1984.  
-          From 1984-2010, according to DOH's Philippine HIV and AIDS Registry Report, the present total reported HIV/AIDS cases is 6,016. The figure doesn’t yet include unreported cases – experts say it can be more than double the reported number.
-          DOH data show that 833 patients from 6,016 have developed into full –blown AIDS and 315 have died from AIDS.
-          In  2010, 97 per cent of total cases reported (168 out of 174 cases) were caused by unprotected sexual contact, and the rest of comes from injecting drug use and other unidentified transmission methods.
-          From the reported cases in December 2010, 95 percent were male aged 19 to 41 who got infected because of sexual contact.

[1] UNAIDS. Living in a World with HIV. Information for UN system personnel and their families.  Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS 2009. 2nd reprint, December 2009.