And what is HIV? HIV is a virus, like the flu or cold. A virus is really nothing but a set of instructions for making new viruses, wrapped up in some fat, protein and sugar. Without living cells, a virus can't do anything—it's like a brain with no body. In order to make more viruses (and to do all of the other nasty things that viruses do), a virus has to infect a cell. HIV mostly infects CD4 cells, also known as T cells, or T-helpercells. These are white blood cells that coordinate the immune system to fight disease, much like the quarterback of a football team. Once inside the cell, HIV starts producing millions of little viruses, which eventually kill the cell and then go out to infect other cells. All of the drugs marketed to treat HIV work by interfering with this process.
In order for viruses to reproduce, they must infect a cell. Viruses are not technically alive: they are sort of like a brain with no body. In order to make new viruses, they must hi-jack a cell, and use it to make new viruses. Just as your body is constantly making new skin cells, or new blood cells, each cell often makes new proteins in order to stay alive and to reproduce itself. Viruses hide their own DNA in the DNA of the cell, and then, when the cell tries to make new proteins, it accidentally makes new viruses as well. HIV mostly infects cells in the immune system.
Infection: Several different kinds of cells have proteins on their surface that are called CD4 receptors. HIV searches for cells that have CD4 surface receptors, because this particular protein enables the virus to bind to the cell. Although HIV infects a variety of cells, its main target is the T4-lymphocyte (also called the "T-helper cell"), a kind of white blood cell that has lots of CD4 receptors. The T4-cell is responsible for warning your immune system that there are invaders in the system.
What body fluids do not transmit HIV? Sweat, tears, saliva and urine do not transmit HIV.
What body fluids do transmit HIV? Blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk can transmit HIV. Remember: There has to be a way for an infected body fluid to enter your blood stream, such as a cut, open sore or tear in the skin.
Remember: You cannot get HIV/AIDS from casual contact, everyday activities. You cannot get HIV from hugging, holding hands, sneezing, coughing, swimming in a pool, or sharing eating utensils with someone who has HIV.
Replication: Once HIV binds to a cell, it hides HIV DNA inside the cell's DNA: this turns the cell into a sort of HIV factory.
HIV enters the body through open cuts, sores, or breaks in the skin; through mucous membranes, such as those inside the anus or vagina; or through direct injection. There are several ways by which this can happen:
Sexual contact with an infected person
Sharing needles, syringes, or other injection equipment with someone who is infected
Transmission via donated blood. However, this is now very rare.
Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, new or potentially unknown routes of transmission have been thoroughly investigated by state and local health departments, in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To date, no additional routes of transmission have been recorded.
I just tested HIV+, now what? What other people with HIV want you to know!!
1. You're not going to die!
2. Find an aggressive treatment plan that works for you.
3. Ask questions, find out as much as you can about HIV and the services you may be
eligible to receive.
4. Remember: your medical team and your social service teams are here to help you.
Keep there names and telephone numbers handy, and also jot down what each
person does. (For example, Columbia CARES, Jennifer, 931.381.0114 ext 14 - food,
gas, case management. Letitia, 931.381.0114 ext 11, housing assistance).
5. Be confident and comfortable with your doctor. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
He/she is trained to help you manager your health care, but you should always be
confident that they are listening to you and that you can trust them.
Finding out that you have HIV can be scary and overwhelming. This can be especially true if you are a young person. If you feel overwhelmed, try to remember that you can get help and that you will not feel this way forever--the scary feelings will get better with time. There are some things that you should know about HIV that may ease some of the stress or confusion you are feeling: You are not alone.
HIV does not equal death. Having HIV does not mean you are going to die.
It does not automatically mean that you have AIDS.
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, and yes, left untreated, it can lead to death. This is why it is so important to get medical care if you find out you have HIV. Do not be afraid to seek a doctor or other health care provider--he or she can help you to stay well and, hopefully, not get sick. Treatments for HIV are not perfect, and are not available to everyone around the world, but they can be very effective for many people. A doctor or other health care provider can explain the best options for you and help you to stay well.
If you have HIV, it is important to know that you could give the virus to others by having unprotected sex or sharing needles (or, if you have a child, by breast-feeding). This is true even if you are feeling perfectly fine, and even if you are taking HIV medications or your virus is "undetectable." Using condoms and clean needles can prevent spreading HIV to
other people. It can also protect you from getting infected with other strains of HIV or other diseases.
For HIVers, finding the right doctor is key—you’ll be making important, and sometimes very difficult, decisions together.
LOOK FOR AN HIV SPECIALIST. There is no accredited “HIV specialty,” but many of the best HIV doctors focus on infectious diseases or internal medicine.
Columbia CARES can help you find a medical provider near you.
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