HEALTH: Know your status: HIV/AIDS in our community

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By Dr. Lydia

This week I would like to discuss HIV/AIDS in the fastest growing segment of the population, women between the ages of 24 and 36. Through my work with the Durham HIV/AIDS Committee it has come to my attention that there are still a number of myths that exist about this disease. I truly believe that knowledge is power and a key factor in reducing the rates of infection, particularly amongst our youth.

In 2011, it was estimated that over 70,000 people in Canada were living with HIV. It is also suspected that up to 17,000 Canadians are living with HIV and are undiagnosed. Testing for HIV is easier than ever. Along with the traditional blood test, there is a new rapid test that involves a finger prick blood sample. The rapid test is not widely available yet, and is best found at the Hassle Free Sexual Health Clinics of Toronto.

Many of the newly diagnosed women are shocked to learn that they have HIV because they have lived a “low-risk” lifestyle. They are not intravenous drug users and keep sexual partners to a minimum; however, they become infected because they are unaware about the sexual history of their partner. Within a monogamous relationship you are only as safe as your partner is. Using condoms and requiring your partner to undergo periodic testing is they way to keep yourself uninfected.

There is a myth that men who have sex with men, on the “down-low” are bringing HIV into the heterosexual community. This is simply not true. Only a small percentage of heterosexual women who are infected with HIV obtain it from a partner who is being unfaithful with another man. The majority of new cases are from heterosexual intercourse.

Due to advances in medication HIV is becoming a manageable chronic disease. Outcomes are best for those that are diagnosed early on in their infection and do not delay treatment with HAART (Highly Active Anti Retroviral Therapy) medications. I have patients who were infected in the 1980s who have seen the tremendous improvement in medication and quality of life that have occurred in the last 25 years. Often controlled with a single pill, as opposed to the former drug cocktails, there certainly is hope of living a long and healthy life even after contracting HIV. Nevertheless, any one of my “positive” patients will tell you that protecting yourself and avoiding infection is certainly superior to treatment.

There is also confusion about how HIV is transmitted. Sweat, urine, saliva and tears do not transmit the virus. You cannot be infected with HIV by a mosquito bite. Semen, vaginal fluid, breast milk and blood are the main body fluids that contain enough of the virus to transmit it to another person. Infection is significantly more likely if the bodily fluid makes contact with the blood stream via an open wound or cut or if there is ripping or tearing of the vagina or anus during intercourse.

Knowing your status and encouraging your partner to get checked regularly is key. Detecting infection early on benefits the individual and society as a whole. HIV positive patients that adhere to their medications are much less likely to spread the virus than those who do not know they are infected. Do not assume that you are being tested on your routine physical. HIV testing is frequently not included. Speak openly with your doctor and request to be tested. Using a latex condom is still the best method of prevention for sexually active people and a spermacide can also further decrease the risk of transmission. If you are concerned about your HIV status the Hassle Free Clinic of Toronto is a great place to get tested quickly and easily. They can be reached at 416-922-0256. Stay safe and know your status.

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