What is AIDS?

AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is a very serious disease caused by Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

A person gets AIDS when the HIV virus has damaged his body’s defenses or immune system. Once these defenses have been damaged, bacteria and viruses may enter the body, making the person very sick.

How do you get HIV?

You can get HIV if you are in contact with certain body fluids from a person who is HIV positive.

Body fluids that can transmit the virus are:

  • Blood.
  • Vaginal secretions.
  • Seminal fluid.
  • Semen.
  • Breast milk.

These infected fluids can get into a person when you :

  • Have sexual intercourse with someone who is HIV positive.
  • Share needles or syringes with a person who is HIV positive (e.g.: for tattooing, body piercing or intravenous drug use).
  • Have contact with a HIV positive person’s blood.
  • Are a mother who is HIV positive and transmits the virus to your unborn child during pregnancy and childbirth or breastfeeding.

You do not get HIV infection through :

  • Shaking hands.
  • Hugging.
  • Sneezing or coughing.
  • Mosquitoes bites or other insect bites.
  • Swimming in a pool.
  • Sharing eating utensils.

Who are at risk of getting HIV?

If you are :

  • Having multiple sexual partners.
  • An intravenous drug user.
  • A sex worker.
  • Homosexual.
  • A medical personnel.

How does HIV affect the body?

HIV destroys a defense cell in the body called a CD4 helper lymphocyte.

The CD4 lymphocyte acts as a messenger to other types of immune system cells, telling them to fight against an invading organism.

The HIV attaches to these CD4 cells, it infects them and uses them as a place for multiplying. In this process, the infected cells lose their ability to fight infection. People with AIDS are unable to fight off many infections and can also develop certain types of cancer e.g. Karposi sarcoma and lymphoma.

AIDS can affect every system in your body.

How do you know if you are HIV positive?

Signs of HIV infection and AIDS may not appear for years and you may not know you have the disease. However you can still transmit the HIV virus to others at this stage. The amount of time for the signs to appear differs from person to person.

When your immune system is overwhelmed by AIDS, the signs include :

  • Extreme weakness and fatigue.
  • Rapid weight loss.
  • Frequent persisting fever.
  • Night sweats.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Skin rash and mucosal ulcers.
  • White spots in the mouth or throat.
  • Chronic diarrhoea.
  • Chronic cough.
  • Memory loss.
  • Severe infection which does not respond to treatment.

White spots in the mouth or throat

How can HIV infection be diagnosed?

See a doctor for a blood test. It can be done at any health clinic. The blood test results will take a few minutes. Your results are confidential. You can also get a counseling session for more information on HIV infection and prevention.

Is there treatment available?

There is currently no cure for HIV infection.

Combinations of antiviral drugs and immune booster drugs are used to resist infection, stay healthy and prolong life.

How can you prevent HIV?

Currently there is no vaccine available.

However HIV transmission can be prevented by :

  • The best way is to avoid sex.
  • If you are sexually active, practice safe sex.
    • Be loyal to one partner. Avoid multiple partners.
    • Use condoms. However condoms are not 100% effective in preventing HIV/AIDS but are able to reduce the risk of transmission.
    • Avoid taking alcohol or drugs that can impair your judgement.
  • Using clean and uncontaminated needles.

If you are below 16 years old, having sex is illegal unless you are married. The Malaysian law states that consensual sex with girls below 16 years old will lead to the male being charged with statutory rape.

If you have a concomitant Sexually transmitted infection (STIs) you are at higher risk of getting HIV infection during unprotected sexual activity.

Last Reviewed : 28 August 2020
Writer : Dr. Hargeet Kaur a/p Basant Singh
Reviewer : Dr. Nazhatussima bt. Suhaili