Today, March 10, is the tenth anniversary of the National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, or for our tech savvy readers, #NWGHAAD.
Because it is expected that you communicate with your kids or other youth in your lives about sexuality health, having medically-accurate information about HIV/AIDS is crucial in understanding the landscape of this disease.
HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is spread via bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and breast milk. Take note that saliva is NOT on that list. These fluids are then transferred to the next person by coming into contact with another person’s blood or mucus membranes (mouth, vagina, rectum, or tip of the penis.) Having unprotected sex is the primary method of infection, so using a condom correctly is an clearly one way to be protected. A person cannot contract HIV by shaking hands, sharing beverages, from toilet seats, hugging, or drinking from water fountains.
HIV is a virus that the body cannot get rid of, unlike other viruses such as the cold or flu bug. This virus likes to stick around and attack your immune system. As HIV continues to attack, it also replicates itself, which allows the virus to attack our immune system further. After a while, usually about ten years without treatment, your body is no longer able to fight even simple infections and the diagnosis of AIDS is made.
AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, is considered the final stage of HIV and is typically fatal after about three years. For more information about HIV/AIDS, click on the link to AIDS.gov.
The good news is, there is testing available to determine if you or your partner have HIV/AIDS. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a combination of medications that can help prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS and allow a person to live a full life.
Listen to Dawn Averitt speak about her diagnosis and medical treatment.
Even though today is an awareness day for women and girls, males should not be excluded from the conversation; 84% of women are infected by their male partners.
HIV/AIDS is an “every person” discussion. Whether your child identifies as gay or straight, bisexual or transgender, it is imperative they have information that can protect them. Knowing and understanding about the disease and prevention BEFORE they are sexually active is the best way to arm them with the tools they need to have safer sex.
Nationally, only 33% of our schools require HIV/AIDS education. It is important for you to have the discussion about this and other STIs with your children.
Starting the conversation
Take advantage of conversation opportunities such as riding in the car (captive audience!), taking them on a walk or out to dinner, or in the stillness of the night before they go to sleep. Rather than just blurting out “I don’t want you to get AIDS!”, try a more gentle approach. “Can we talk?” Pretty simple. Now that you have their attention, explain that you just happened to be reading about HIV/AIDS and would like to share what you learned. Ask them if they have talked about it in school and if they can share insights with you as well. This ensures they are involved in this conversation and it does not become a lecture.
The following are facts that can inspire conversation. One conversation about HIV/AIDS – or any other important life topic – should be discussed often and over the course of time. Therefore, no need to hit on all the following facts at once, but they will give you a few talking points.
The following information is found on Womenshealth.gov. Click on the link to learn more.
1. Of all the people who live with HIV, 25% are women.
2. 80% of those women are age 15-44.
3. 25% do not seek medical care because of many barriers.
4. Only half are receiving medical care for HIV, and only 40% of those women have it under control.
5. Abstinence is the only way to fully prevent HIV, however using a condom correctly with vaginal, anal, and oral sex can help reduce the risk.
6. Your partner and yourself should get tested before engaging in sexual activity and as part of your annual check up. Most STI’s and HIV do not show obvious symptoms right away.
7. Get yourself tested (GYT) for STI’s as well. Having an STI increases your risk of contracting HIV.
8. Casual contact or toilet seats will not expose you to AIDS.
9. Alcohol and drugs increases risky behavior. Which increases your odds for not using a condom. Which increases your odds of contracting an STI or AIDS.
10. Do not share needles or syringes with another person.
11. Your risk of HIV is influenced by many factors, including your partners history. Don’t be afraid to have the conversation about past drug use or sexual history. Even so, get tested together.
12. As always, if you ever have questions about HIV, STI’s or other sexual health issues, never hesitate to approach your healthcare provider.
Finally, be a kind, compassionate global citizen and show support for those who live with HIV/AIDS. Donate to your local AIDS Foundation, participate in fundraisers or walks, educate peers about HIV facts, and show support for those you may meet someday with HIV/AIDS. Listen to this lovely #NWGHAAD Ambassador.