The facts about HIV and AIDS, why we make a big deal about it on December 1st and why someone will wear a massive red ribbon on X Factor.


December 1st is World Aids Day, which is why people will be wearing red ribbons today and for the next few days (someone will wear a massive one on X factor).

On World Aids Day lovely, thoughtful and cool people wear red ribbons to show that they care, to help promote safer sex, to encourage people to look after themselves and each other and to reduce stigma. More on stigma later but for now the facts.

What is it?

HIV is a virus which attacks and destroys CD4 cells in the body, which are the cells which help to fight illnesses. Unless someone with HIV gets treatment, the number of CD4 cells can become so low that they can no longer fight off illnesses, such as pneumonia, and this can threaten their life (this is often known as having ‘AIDS’).

There is no cure for HIV.

But since 1990s there have been drug treatments which can help people living with HIV to stay well and live relatively normal lives. They can have sex, have kids, have careers, have fun, nip out to the shop for a Double Decker that kind of thing.

But living with HIV is not easy and it’s a life threatening illness so we should try to avoid it.

How do we get it?

The main way that people in the UK get HIV is by someone having sex with someone, who already has HIV, without a condom: specifically sex with a penis going inside a vagina or anus (arse), without a condom.

So we need to either use a condom for sex, only have sex with someone we know for sure doesn’t have the virus, or have safer sex.

It’s also possible to get HIV from sharing needles with someone who has HIV. It’s also possible to be born with HIV from a parent who already has it.

We can not get HIV from kissing, stroking, licking, massaging, rubbing or using the same toilet seat or towel or anything like that. OK? Got that?

How do we know if we have it?

We can have HIV for ages without knowing. It usually does not have any recognisable symptoms. In the UK they estimate that over 22,000 people have got it without knowing about it (1/4 of the total number in the UK).

So if you’ve ever had sex without a condom you might want to get a check-up.

For your nearest clinic visit here

The test involves either a blood sample (taken with a needle in the ar or a pin prick to the end of your finger) or a swab from the inside of your mouth. The highly trained health care professionals will tell you what will happen and you can refuse any test.

Tests are free and confidential in the UK.

As it is one of the least common infections you may also want to get a check-up for everything else too (such as Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea, which are very common, but less dangerous).

Why is there stigma about HIV?

HIV must be the only illness in the world where people are abused and attacked and treated unfairly for having an illness. This is simply wrong. Do we go around calling people with cancer, diabetes or gout names?

Maybe it’s because we can’t talk about SEX like we can talk about everything else. Maybe if we all talked more openly about SEX things would be different.

Anyone can get HIV. Anyone. Straight/Gay, Black/White, Man/Woman, Non-Binary/Binary, Trans/Cis, ManU fan/Chelsea fan, Rockstar/Rapper, Sex Worker/Sex Educator. There is no type of person that gets HIV. If we have sex without a condom, with someone who has it, we can get it.

So wear a ribbon and show you care and spread the facts and reduce the stigma.

© Justin Hancock, 2015

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