Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that causes progressive failure to the immune system of a person if he is infected; weakening it so much so that it allows cancers or opportunistic infections to thrive. There are various stages of HIV infection, while the last and final stage – the manifestation of full blown HIV – Acquired immune Deficiency Syndrome, or better known to most of us as AIDS.
The specific stages of HIV infection are – acute (primary) infection, latency, and finally, AIDS. Acute infection will typically last for a number of weeks, and general symptoms that may plague infected individuals are fever, rash, muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes, mouth and esophageal sores.
Depending on the immunity of the individual, HIV infected persons may be in latency stage from weeks up to even twenty years or more. It must be highlighted that while an infected individual in this stage may exhibit little or no symptoms of illness, s/he can still pass the infection to others.
At the final stage, the infected individual will have a critically low amount of antibodies (CD4 cell count), and will be highly susceptible to respiratory tract infections, severe weight loss, inflammation of the prostate gland (in men), body rashes, and oral ulcers.
HIV is typically transmitted via activities involving the exchange of bodily fluid, unprotected sexual activity, from infected mother to child or through breast milk; as well as through blood transfusions and intravenous drug use. It is not easily transmissible via casual social contact like shaking hands, hugging, or by sitting on the same seat previously occupied by an infected person.
Given the many present local social stigmas, it has been easy for the general public to ascribe blame of the occurrence of HIV and AIDS to gay men. In the US and other European countries, HIV and AIDS have affected young gay men more than any other group of people. Certain plausible factors that have added to increased risk for gay men include substance abuse, lack of knowledge about partner’s HIV status, as well as complacency or underestimation of risk. According to local statistics published by the Ministry of Health however, there are no significant results that suggest that gay men are the leading cause of the spread of HIV virus. HIV can infect anyone; regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. It is not the individual that creates risk and harm to others, it is the activity.
HIV is not a gay disease, neither is it a heterosexual disease. Rather, it is a social disease. With early initiation of treatment and a suitable treatment plan, HIV positive individuals may well be able to prolong and spend a good decade of their life symptom free.