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Monday, August 10, 2009
just so you know
"I'm so excited for you - but what does it mean to be undetectable?" is the question I get the most and I do not mind at all explaining what HIV/AIDS is and why being undetectable is so important.
So, please indulge me as I layout the basics of HIV/AIDS or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. HIV is the virus that leads to AIDS and AIDS is a diagnosis given to those with HIV that have a high viral load count, a T-Cell count under 200 and/or an opportunistic infection - an infection that only those with severely compromised immune systems generally get.
Let me state emphatically, HIV/AIDS IS NOT A GAY DISEASE.
"HIV does not discriminate. It is not who you are, but what you do that determines whether you can become infected with HIV."
No thanks to the CDC in the early eighties, the common myth is that HIV/AIDS only affects gay people and those they engage in unprotected sex with. Though the gay community and those that had unprotected sex with them were and are still being infected - they are not the source nor the only ones being infected.
The other common myth is that HIV/AIDS came from apes/monkeys - there is no certain known source of HIV/AIDS and there is still extensive research into when and where it first appeared. Some reports show evidence that it has been around since the late 1800's-early 1900's.
Another myth: There must be a cure because so many people are living healthy, longer lives even with HIV/AIDS. This is false, there is no found cure. Anti-retroviral drugs or "cocktails" are strong and can fight off the effects of the disease for a long time. Thanks to the advances in medicine and science and a landmark move by two pharmaceutical companies to collaborate their work into a one pill once a day drug - many people around the world are surviving. There are so many millions, though, without these drugs that die every minute of every day mostly because of ignorance, refusal to get tested, governments who refuse to accept help or allow their infected people to have drugs, etc. Please, just remember, there is no found cure, but there is hope that we are close to getting one.
Now that I've covered all that - you may want to know what exactly it is. There are plenty of websites that describe HIV/AIDS, I will list the best ones at the end. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, but not like most viruses. HIV is unfortunately, really smart.
In basic terms HIV comes into the body through semen, vaginal fluid, blood and breast milk. The ways it is transmitted is through unprotected sex, sharing contaminated syringes/needles, giving birth and breast-feeding. There are rare cases where it was transmitted through oral sex or kissing that still involved either blood, semen or vaginal fluid - NOT saliva. Though saliva carries the HIV antibodies - it would take at least 8 gallons of saliva in contact continuously with at least one of the other bodily fluids to be infected. Even then, there have not been enough cases to prove that kissing leads to infection unless blood is present and that oral sex leads to infection unless blood and a contaminated bodily fluid is present. Not to be too graphic, but I can't imagine anyone wanting to kiss someone while both their mouths were bleeding, etc.
Just a reminder, HIV is not transmitted through sweat, saliva, urine, mosquitos or anything other than what was listed above. It is strictly a virus only humans can get, though there is evidence that other similar viruses have been found in our relatives; primates.
HIV, once in the body, attaches itself to T-Cells (CD-4 cells) aka white blood cells and basically retrieves DNA from the cell and imitates the cell as if itself, the virus, is a healthy white blood cell. The virus in its new disguise tricks the healthy cell into letting it inside. It enters the cell and starts making millions and billions of copies of itself that are sent out like destroyer drones. Eventually, the healthy cell is taken over by the virus and the process repeats until, without treatment, the person has no more healthy cells to protect themselves and they die.
Everyone has T-Cells; when you get a cold, T-Cells send out antibodies that save you from death and doctors can use these to diagnose you. When someone gets HIV - antibodies are sent out to help fight and that's why doctors use saliva to do preliminary HIV tests. They do blood tests to confirm whether someone who tested positive through saliva actually has the HIV virus and not some other virus; the preliminary tests are 99.9% accurate, but there are a few reasons why a false positive may show up.
Ok, so jump to someone like me who not so long ago wasn't doing so great. My T-Cell count was at 303 and my viral load was 88,668 or something like that. That's not so great. Doctors will suggest and strongly encourage that any HIV positive person with a T-cell count under 500 should begin treatment.
What is treatment? It's different for everybody. It began in a horrible way but now we have hope. The "cocktails" or anti-retrovirals are meant to do two things at the same time. One, kill the virus before or as it attaches to the T-Cell. Two, enter the contaminated T-Cell and stop the virus from making copies. So, drugs are designed to help and protect T-Cells and the body by increasing T-Cells and decreasing viral load. The idea is that an HIV/AIDS patient have more than 500 T-Cells and less the 48 copies of the virus/viral load. When someone has under 48 copies, tests can no longer detect the virus in the body and that's why we call people with an undetected viral load, UNDETECTABLE.
Just an interesting note: A person who has been diagnosed as having AIDS, but because of treatment improves to the point that their T-Cells go back over 200 and their viral load decreases...no matter if the person lives the rest of their life undetectable, they are still considered to have AIDS. Once an immune system has been so compromised, ANYTHING, can set it right back down or even to death.
Early treatments required sometimes 12 to 15 pills a day, three to six times a day. Imagine taking anywhere from 36-90 plus pills a day that each cost about $100 or more. Today, drugs are still expensive, but there are more and more organizations that make it possible for more people regardless of income to have access to these drugs. I believe it's now the law in the United States that HIV/AIDS patients cannot be refused medical help and medicinal treatment - the program is known as Medic-Aid - anyone who enters a hospital with HIV/AIDS can demand Medic-Aid to cover the costs of the support they need. Of course this program is based on low-income and each state has a set standard.
I feel I have rambled on here and there and mixed everything up. Hopefully, I have presented this information in a way that has been helpful to all that read it. I am more than happy to answer any questions about HIV/AIDS and/or my personal experiences with it via my personal e-mail.
I love you all and thank you for the thoughts, prayers and support you give me. Without it, I would not have the ability to open up and share such vital information with my family and friends. Again, I really do appreciate all that you have done on my and other HIV/AIDS patients behalf through emotional, physical and financial support.
You have been caught Jey Walking!
once there, scroll down for websites for more information
You will also find an essay I wrote about my experience with HIV