The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has already devastated many individuals, families, and communities. The epidemic has left millions of children orphaned, disrupted community life, and increasingly contributes to the erosion of civil order and economic growth.
“A person from families living with HIV/AIDS often has to deal with psychosocial stress, reduced parenting capacity, a shift in family structure, financial deprivation, stigma, and discrimination. But unlike what is believed, HIV is not transmitted as easily as it is thought to be,” said Dr Deviprasad Hegde, MD (internal medicine), senior consultant, Kauvery Hospital, Electronic City, Bangalore.
According to him, medical literature estimates that the transmission rate is actually about 0.1 per cent per sex act, or 10 per cent per year. “The chances of developing HIV after exposure depends on factors such as the method of exposure, the infected person’s viral load, and the number of exposures you have had. It’s possible to develop HIV after a single exposure, even if it’s statistically unlikely,” he elucidated.
Notably, HIV is transmitted between people through bodily fluids, unprotected anal or vaginal sex, and sharing of needles. People can also transmit HIV to their babies during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
“The review of studies estimates chances of infection for various types of exposures: blood transfusion – 92.5 per cent; needle sharing – 0.6 per cent; unprotected sex – 0.1 to 1 per cent, pregnancy (mother to child) – 25 per cent,” he said.
If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, here’s what you can do:
*Talk to a medical professional who can advise you on the available tests and tell you if you’re eligible for Post Exposure Prophylaxis.
*It’s important to get tested if you think you may have been exposed to HIV so you can start treatment as soon as possible. HIV tests can’t immediately detect infection. The window period to identify a positive infection varies as per the type of test used. NAT: 10 to 33 days, Antibody test: 23 to 90 days, Antigen/antibody test: 18 to 45 days for a blood draw or 18 to 90 days for finger prick
*Postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a drug therapy that needs to be taken within 72 hours of exposure, and it can significantly reduce your chances of developing HIV.
How often to test
*If your initial test comes up negative, you should test again at the end of your window period.
*It is important to note that people with HIV, who are taking antiretroviral therapy (ART), are virally suppressed and do not transmit HIV to their sexual partners. Early access to ART and support to remain on treatment is therefore critical not only to improve the health of people with HIV but also to prevent HIV transmission.