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We are all aware of the sexually transmitted disease AIDS, caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This is a disease that destroys the immune system and ruins its ability to fight infections and protect the body from harmful microorganisms, thereby leading to opportunistic infections. It's a deadly disease that has no cure and is considered as a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

South Africa is known to have the highest number of AIDS cases in the world, with the numbers touching over 5 million (of the 19 million). For years together this continent lived in denial, however, now things seem to be different. The continent is now gripped by a surge of tests, treatment and preventive measures to inhibit the spread of the disease. In fact, the United Nation's officials state that South Africa's attempt to control the spread of HIV/AIDS is 'the largest and fastest expansion of AIDS services ever attempted by any nation'. So what are some precautions to be taken that can prevent the spread of HIV? Before we get into that let us first understand how HIV is transmitted.

How is HIV Transmitted?

HIV can be transmitted via body fluids like blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk. Having sexual intercourse with an HIV infected person can get a person HIV positive. The virus passes into the other person via the semen or vaginal fluid. Moreover, the virus can also be transmitted through infected syringes, blood transfusions or by infected blood splashing onto a person's open wounds or sores. If infected blood falls on the skin, the virus cannot enter the body, because of the skin that acts as a barrier. However, any wound or cut is vulnerable ground. If infected blood falls on a wound, it will directly pass into the bloodstream and infect the body.

HIV Transmission Misconceptions

You will not get HIV from mosquito bites (or else we all would have been infected by now!), hugging or holding the hands of a person with HIV, swimming in the same pool with an HIV positive person or playing indoor or outdoor games with an HIV positive person. HIV is also not transmitted through contact via saliva, tears or sweat. Thus, if an HIV positive person coughs or sneezes around you, do not panic. Moreover, drinking from the same glass or using the same toilet that an HIV infected person has used will also not infect you. Moreover, coming in casual contact with HIV infected people at work, school, social gatherings, etc. will also not cause you any harm.

Crucial Precautions Against HIV

Avoid Mouth to Mouth Kissing
Although HIV is not transmitted through saliva, kissing an HIV positive person is not safe. This is simply because coming in contact with even small amount of blood can get you infected. A drop of blood can be present in the mouth if the person has just flossed, eaten extremely hot or sharp foods or if the person has a gum disease, etc. can result in disease transmission. The person may be unaware of that blood drop in his or her mouth, but it's enough to get you infected. Thus, mouth to mouth kissing is dangerous and should be avoided.

No Unprotected Sex
Unprotected penetrative sex can conduce to transmission of the virus from one body into another. If you are HIV positive abstain from sex for the sake of the other person. Both male and female condoms are supposed to protect and prevent transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD), however, they are not foolproof. Having sex with multiple partners also increases the risk of contracting AIDS, thus, be faithful to one partner.

Careful Blood Transfusions
People working in blood banks need to be very careful while dealing with blood. They not only have to take care of themselves, but also need to test blood accurately. Ignorant transfusions of HIV positive blood at hospitals have caused large numbers of people across the globe to die of AIDS. Thus, care should be taken to test blood before giving a blood transfusion.

Sterilized Instruments
People in the medical field or tattooing industry should be very careful while dealing with their sharp instruments. They should maintain necessary precautions such that they do not get pricked by the infected needle in their hands. Moreover, they should also sterilize equipment before reuse to prevent the spread of infection from one patient to another. Sharing injections to take drugs, razors, etc. is strictly forbidden.

Breastfeeding Precautions
To prevent HIV transmission from mother to child, the pregnant woman needs to take some antiretroviral drugs to stop the transfer of the virus from the mother's body into the fetus growing in the womb and even during childbirth. The risk of passing the virus via breast milk can be avoided by feeding the baby exclusively on breast milk and not even water. This is because giving formula milk or water can damage the child's insides. The mother should make sure the nipples are not cracked or bleeding. Start feeding the baby solid food at 4-6 months and then stop breastfeeding immediately. One can even avoid breastfeeding, if an alternative feeding option is available, which is feasible, safe and affordable.

AIDS is not a disease we can afford to take lightly. It's a life-threatening disease and once we contract it we have no option but to live with it. It is wise to take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of HIV. We have only one life. Take it seriously and live it wisely!