Jamaica Magazine

The Basics: HIV/AIDS

What is HIV?

HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a small germ that causes AIDS. If someone is HIV positive, they are carrying the virus and can spread the virus to other people.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, caused by the HIV. When someone has AIDS, their body’s immune system breaks down and the person is often at risk of developing different life-threatening conditions, like pneumonia.

HIV and AIDS is not the same thing (and should not be used interchangeably).
Someone may be HIV positive and may not develop AIDS, however, everyone with AIDS is HIV positive.

How does someone become infected with HIV?

There are several ways in which a person can become infected with HIV:

  • Having unprotected sexual intercourse– including vaginal, anal or oral sex – with someone with the virus.
  • Sharing drug needles or syringes with an infected person.
  • An HIV-infected pregnant woman not taking any AIDS drugs can transmit the virus to her baby. during pregnancy or birth. The virus can also be transmitted during nursing.
  • Getting HIV-infected blood, semen, or vaginal fluids into open wounds or sores.
    There have been some cases where people were infected through blood transfusion.

People infected with HIV cannot pass the virus to others through ordinary activities. HIV cannot be transmitted through sharing bathrooms, shaking hands, hugging, kissing on the cheek or mouth (unless there are open sores) or sharing utensils with someone infected with the virus. HIV is not airborne and therefore cannot be spread through coughing or sneezing.

What are the symptoms?

Although some people develop symptoms shortly after being infected, it takes more than 10 years for symptoms to appear. Some early symptoms include :

  • Swollen lymph glands in the throat, armpit or groin
  • Slight fever
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches

Are there treatments available?

Although there is currently NO CURE FOR AIDS, a variety of new treatments are available that can prolong the lives of many people living with the disease and extend, delay the onset of AIDS in people with HIV. These treatments are combinations of medicines called cocktails.

  • Can HIV/AIDS be prevented?[/B]

    Absolutely. HIV/AIDS can be prevented by:

    • Practicing safe sex – use a latex condom at all times.
    • Practice monogamy.
    • Stay away from drugs and do not share injection needles.
    • Stay away from prostitutes and the likes.
    • Get informed about HIV/AIDS.

    Where can I get tested for HIV?

    Visit your private doctor or your local health clinic for testing. You may also want to contact the National AIDS Committee or the Jamaican Aids Support (JAS) for information on where you can get tested (and whether or not free testing is available).

    More Info & Other Related Resources

  • About the author

    Deidre Patterson, MPH