HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. AIDS or 'Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome' occurs in the later stage of HIV infection. A person infected with HIV can take up to 10 years to develop AIDS.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV is transmitted by:
- unprotected sexual intercourse with a HIV infected partner
- the sharing of injection needles and other piercing instruments used for tattooing or acupuncture that are tainted with HIV
- from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy, at birth, or through breastfeeding
- receiving infected blood and blood products (e.g. organs, plasma).
HIV is NOT spread through social contact such as hugging and touching. Neither can it be transmitted through contact with objects such as food or toilet seats, or by biting insects such as mosquitoes.
How can I protect myself from HIV infection?
You can protect yourself from HIV by:
- Not engaging in casual sex.
- Be faithful to your partner and being honest about your sexual history. If you are both unsure of your HIV status, consider going for HIV screening together.
- If you have multiple sex partners, always practise safer sex by using condoms consistently and correctly. Even though condoms do not give 100% protection from HIV, they provide at least 90% protection.
- Always remember to use a new latex condom during each sexual intercourse and follow the manufacturer's instructions.
- Avoid consumption of alcohol and drugs as these can affect your judgment, causing you to engage in risky sexual behaviours.
- Use only clean, sterile needles and choose a reliable service provider when getting a piercing, tattoo or an injection.
- Accept only HIV-screened blood for blood transfusions.
You cannot tell if someone has HIV based on appearances alone. Persons with HIV usually have no sign or symptoms.
How does HIV affect health?
The HIV infection weakens the body's immune defences by destroying CD4 (T-cell) lymphocytes which are white blood cells that protect us against attacks by bacteria, viruses and other harmful pathogens.
When these white blood cells are destroyed or weakened, they will no longer be able to defend the body effectively against infections.
In addition, HIV infection also increases the severity of some common diseases and conditions. It also increases the risk of getting some cancers.
AIDS is the end stage of HIV infection and is fatal. The person with AIDS usually dies between one and a half to three years after developing AIDS, from various infections and cancers.
How do I know if I have HIV?
Usually, a HIV-infected person may not notice any symptoms.
However, the following symptoms may be experienced:
- Weight loss
- Prolonged fever
- Night sweats
- Skin rash
- Persistent diarrheoa
- Lowered resistance to infections
However, HIV screening is the only way to know if one is infected or not. Here is a list of screening services available in Singapore.
Rapid HIV testing is now offered in some medical clinics. These tests produce very quick results. In approximately 20 minutes you may be able to know your HIV status. For a list of the clinics, visit the Ministry of Health website.
Is there a cure for HIV infection?
Currently, there is no cure for HIV infection.
However, there are treatments in the form of anti-retroviral therapy that can improve the patient's immune system so as to delay the onset of AIDS.
These drugs act by suppressing the replication of the HIV virus, thus delaying the spread of HIV in the body and the onset of opportunistic infections.
For more information you can call HealthLine at 1800 223 1313 to speak to a nurse advisor.
If you think you may have an STI, you can go for sexual health screening or HIV screening at:
DSC (Department of STI Control) Clinic
31 Kelantan Lane
#01-16, Singapore 200031
Tel: 6293 9648
Fax: 6299 4335
You can also get yourself tested for STIs or HIV/AIDS at Polyclinics, Private Clinics and hospitals.