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How AIDS Affects People

More than a century ago, a hunter brought down a chimpanzee with a well-aimed arrow in Cameroon, approximately 1908, to be more accurate. The hunter injured himself while gutting his prey, exposing the chimp’s blood to his own. An unknown virus “spilled over” at that precise moment, and it jumped from one species to another, in other words. Perhaps this is the beginning of the AIDS saga.

The “cut hunter” story is simply a theory. Still, it’s one of the most plausible explanations for how a simian immunodeficiency virus made the leap from chimps to humans and became HIV.

Surprisingly, scientists have been able to pinpoint exactly where the crossover occurred. HIV mutates at a steady rate, just like all other viruses. This rate of mutation can be used by scientists to trace the virus’s evolution. HIV’s strong resemblance to a simian immunodeficiency virus convinced researchers that it was a chimp-borne virus. Scientists tracked down the area of “spillover” to a distant corner of modern-day Cameroon in the early 20th century after a difficult procedure of collecting chimp poo samples all over Africa and calculating the rate of mutation in the viruses they discovered.

The injured hunter most likely walked downstream to a nearby town, where he accidentally infected another person through sexual intercourse. The virus would then spread from town to town until it reached Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, DRC’s capital. Belgian colonial officials started medical treatment campaigns involving numerous injections with reusable syringes as Kinshasa’s population expanded between the 1920s and the 1950s. This would have resulted in a faster spread of the infection.

The Belgians left the Congo in 1960, and most of Kinshasa’s medical staff returned to Haiti. One of them, at the very least, was born with HIV. Blood plasma donations were paid for by an American-run facility there. The disease spread through Port-au-Prince thanks to the clinic’s reusable needles, and a few of the infected blood plasma made its path to the United States in 1969 for use in hospitals and clinics. Once there, it spread through shared needles among drug users and sexual contact among gay males [source: Lynch].

The virus, eventually dubbed human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), causes autoimmune deficiency syndrome, a dangerous illness (AIDS). Based on the World Health Organization (WHO), 35 million people died of AIDS in 2017. However, since 2005, when the number of deaths and new infections peaked, the number of deaths and new illnesses has steadily decreased because of improved medicines and preventive measures.

The Transmission of HIV

Many misconceptions about how AIDS propagated when it first came to public attention in the 1980s. These myths have been debunked as a result of ongoing public awareness campaigns.

Blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk are the only body fluids HIV can be transmitted. These fluids must come into touch with another person’s damaged tissue or mucous membranes or be injected directly with a needle for the virus to spread. The mouth, anus, rectum, cervix, vagina, foreskin, and urethra of the penis all have mucus membranes.

HIV can be spread in a variety of ways, as follows:

Sexual interaction

Bypassing contaminated intravenous needles around.

While pregnancy or birth, from an infected mother to her child.

HIV can be passed from mother to baby during breastfeeding (although this is uncommon in countries where blood is checked for HIV antibodies). Because of the numerous health benefits of breast milk, the World Health Organization now advises HIV-positive women to continue breastfeeding their newborns. To help lower the risk of transmission, WHO recommends that both the mother and the baby get antiretroviral medication [source: WHO].

HIV is a weak virus that cannot survive outside of the human body and so cannot be transmitted through the air. It cannot be contracted by surface contacts, such as doorknobs or counters, as a cold or the flu may. Because of its vulnerability, there have been no documented cases of environmental transmission [source: Aidsmap].

Because there is so much misinformation out there regarding how HIV spreads, it’s crucial to underline the ways it doesn’t:

Saliva, tears, and sweat contain only trace amounts of the virus, and scientists have yet to find HIV in an infected person’s work.

Insects: HIV transmission by bloodsucking insects has not been proven in studies, and this is true even in locations with a high prevalence of AIDS and significant mosquito populations.

The identical toilet seat is being used.

The same pool was used.

Handshakes, hugs, and touches

When you eat at the same restaurant every time, you get to know each other better.

Having someone sit next to you

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