HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/ Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is a disease affecting the human immune system. The infection is spread through contact with certain bodily fluids, most commonly through sexual intercourse or intravenous needle sharing. The HIV virus invades the cells in our bodies that fight common infections, and eventually prevents the body from being able to fight and recover from many illnesses. This later stage is called AIDS. The only way to know if you have HIV is to be tested, and with anti-retroviral treatment (ART) it is possible to stop the progression of the disease from HIV into AIDS. There is currently no cure for HIV/AIDS, but scientific advances are being made.
Prevention of HIV
The first step toward sexual health is prevention of infection—knowing how the disease is spread, and what you can do to avoid becoming infected or transmission to another person. The most important thing is to avoid high-risk activities, such as 1) having sex without a condom and 2) sharing needles or other injecting equipment. Other ways HIV is transmitted include mother-to-baby transmission during childbirth, and blood transfusions.
1. Sexual transmission of HIV
You cannot tell if someone has HIV just by looking at them—the disease can be spread before the person exhibits any symptoms.
You should always use a condom when having sex to prevent the spread of disease. HIV is most commonly transmitted through vaginal or anal sex, but it is possible to transmit the disease through oral sex and the sharing of sex toys as well. You should always use a condom compatible lube for anal sex as well. In addition to condoms, (male condoms are put on a man’s penis, and female condoms are put inside a woman’s vagina,) you can use “dental dams” to protect yourself when having oral sex.
Even if you and your partner both already are HIV postitive, you should still practice safe sex because you may transmit a strain of the virus that your HIV medication cannot control or a STI (sexually transmidded infection)
Lubricants can be used with condoms to reduce the likelihood of infection. They reduce the risk of the condom breaking and tearing. ONLY water-based lubricants (like KY) or silicon based lubricants should be used with condoms. Oil-based lubricants (such as Vaseline, baby oil or massage oil) can break down condoms.
There are many misconceptions about how HIV is transmitted. HIV lives in the blood and other bodily fluids, and can be transmitted in a few ways.
Only certain bodily fluids contain enough of the virus to infect another person. They are:
- vaginal fluids, including menstrual blood
- breast milk
Bodily fluids that DO NOT contain enough of the virus to infect another person include saliva, sweat and urine.
The most common ways that the virus enters the bloodstream include:
- injecting with a contaminated needle or injecting equipment
- through the thin lining of the anus and genitals
- through the thin living of the mouth and eyes
- through cuts and sores in the skin.
- You CAN NOT get HIV though kissing, spitting, being bitten, contact with unbroken, healthy skin, being sneezed on, sharing baths, swimming pools or toilets, sharing towels or cutlery, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, contact with animals or insects such as mosquitos.
2. Sharing needles and injecting equipment
HIV can be transmitted from one person to another person through contaminated needles, syringes, and or other equipment used for injecting. If you inject drugs, don’t share your injecting equipment with other people. Also, when getting a tattoo or piercing, you must make sure the needles are sterilized.
You can talk to your doctor or the GGD about options for drug counseling and safer use.
If you think you might have been infected with HIV, or an STI you can get tested at a testing center.
You can also get tested by the Association of Community Health Services Netherlands (GGD). The website below allows you to search for your local GGD by location.
It is extremely important to get tested as soon as possible for several reasons. First, you should get tested so that you don’t unknowingly pass the disease to another person. In the first period after infection the level of virus in one’s body is very high, making transmission more likely. Second, you should get tested immediately after you think you may have been exposed to the virus because it may be possible to take a Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) drug which can stop HIV after it has entered your bloodstream. PEP should be accessed within 72 hours after risk of transmission. Not everyone is able to take a PEP so it should NOT be used instead of condoms and other preventative measures. Finally, the sooner you know if you are HIV positive, the sooner you can begin taking life-saving drugs.