It's a disease effecting more than 58 million people worldwide. HIV and AIDS claims 8,000 lives everyday.
Wednesday was World AIDS Day, and despite an international education campaign, the stigma of AIDS as a homosexual disease still slows the flow of information.
Every year the local HIV and AIDS Awareness Organization Basic holds a candlelight vigil for World AIDS Day.
"It's a time to remember those we have lost and let them know they have not died in vain," says Valerie Mincey.
Mincey also hopes the vigil will remind people the importance of getting tested. The Bay County Health Department offers free testing year-round.
"We have confidential and anonymous testing. Confidential means we won't release your name but we do have records here at the Health Department of your test results. Anonymous testing, we arrange it so only you see your results and they are never sent to us," says Rick Davis of the Bay County Health Department.
This year's World AIDS Day theme is women and girls. Thirty percent of Bay County's infected population are women and that number is growing. One major concern is pregnant women passing the virus onto their unborn children. There are ways to keep the virus from infecting your baby like having a Cesarean section.
The candlelight vigil started at 6 p.m. Wednesday Basic Headquarters in downtown Panama City had an open house until 8 p.m.
A few facts about AIDS and HIV
- AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is a condition believed to be caused by a virus called HIV.
- This virus attacks the immune system.
- When the immune system breaks down, you lose this protection and can develop many serious, often deadly infections and cancers.
- AIDS is the condition that lets opportunistic infections take hold, and those infections cause death.
How is HIV and AIDS transmitted
- HIV is spread most commonly by having unprotected sex with an infected partner. The virus can enter the body through the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum, or mouth during sex.
- HIV also is spread through contact with infected blood. Today, because of blood screening and heat treatment, the risk of getting HIV from such transfusions is extremely small.
- HIV frequently is spread among injection drug users by the sharing of needles or syringes contaminated with very small quantities of blood from someone infected with the virus.
- Women can transmit HIV to their babies during pregnancy or birth. Approximately one-quarter to one-third of all untreated pregnant women infected with HIV will pass the infection to their babies.
Early symptoms of HIV infection
- Many people do not have any symptoms when they first become infected with HIV.
- Some people, however, have a flu-like illness within a month or two after exposure to the virus. This illness may include fever, headache, tiredness, and enlarged lymph nodes (glands of the immune system easily felt in the neck and groin).
- These symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for those of another viral infection, although, during this period, people are very infectious, and HIV is present in large quantities in genital fluids.
- More persistent or severe symptoms may not surface for a decade or more after HIV first enters the body in adults, or within two years in children born with HIV infection.
- As the immune system deteriorates, a variety of complications start to take over. For many people, their first sign of infection is large lymph nodes or "swollen glands" that may be enlarged for more than three months.
- Other symptoms often experienced months to years before the onset of AIDS include:
- lack of energy
- weight loss
- frequent fevers and sweats
- persistent or frequent yeast infections (oral or vaginal)
- persistent skin rashes or flaky skin
- pelvic inflammatory disease in women that does not respond to treatment
- short-term memory loss
- lack of energy
- Some people develop frequent and severe herpes infections that cause mouth, genital, or anal sores, or a painful nerve disease called shingles. Children may grow slowly or be sick a lot.
What is AIDS?
- The term AIDS applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection. CDC developed official criteria for the definition of AIDS and is responsible for tracking the spread of AIDS in the United States.
- CDC's definition of AIDS includes all HIV-infected people who have fewer than 200 CD4+ T cells per cubic millimeter of blood. (Healthy adults usually have CD4+ T-cell counts of 1,000 or more.)
- In addition, the definition includes 26 clinical conditions that affect people with advanced HIV disease.
- Most of these conditions are opportunistic infections that generally do not affect healthy people.
- In people with AIDS, these infections are often severe and sometimes fatal because the immune system is so ravaged by HIV that the body cannot fight off certain bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and other microbes.
Source: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/factsheets/hivinf.htm (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Fact Sheet)