Below is a comprehensive guide to Aids and HIV, including facts and figures, how social workers can support people affected by HIV/Aids, asylum seekers and HIV/Aids, Aids research and Aids prevention.
65,000 people in the UK are living with HIV, according to the Terrence Higgins Trust. One third of these are undiagnosed.
The National Aids Trust says the biggest group living with HIV in the UK is gay and bisexual men. A growing number of heterosexual people, particularly from African communities, are now also infected, the trust states.
Basic facts about HIV and AIDS (source: National Aids Trust)
The human immunodeficiency virus which causes AIDS is transmitted through body fluids, in particular blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk.
You can become infected with HIV through:
• Unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected partner
• Sharing needles when injecting or other use of contaminated injection or other skin-piercing equipment
• Blood and blood products, for example, infected transfusions and organ or tissue transplants
• Transmission from infected mother to child in the womb or at birth and breastfeeding
You cannot get HIV by:
• Casual physical contact
• Coughing, sneezing or kissing
• Sharing toilet and washing facilities
• Using eating utensils or consuming food and beverages handled by someone who has HIV
• Mosquitoes or other insect bites
What happens if you have HIV?
HIV weakens the human body’s immune system, making it difficult to fight infection. Treatments exist which can prevent the onset of Aids and although there are side effects, a person can lead a healthy, active life with a long life expectancy if they respond well to treatment. However, they can still transmit the infection to others.
Early symptoms of Aids include:
• Chronic fatigue
• Mental changes such as memory loss
• Weight loss
• Persistent cough
• Severe recurrent skin rashes
• Herpes and mouth infections
• Swelling of the lymph nodes
Opportunistic diseases such as cancers, meningitis, pneumonia and tuberculosis may also take advantage of the body’s weakened immune system.
Is there a cure?
Treatments exist which can prevent the onset of Aids and allow periods of illness to be followed by periods of remission. However, there is no cure for Aids. Research is currently under way into vaccines, but none is viable as yet.
How does HIV transmission occur?
HIV is a fragile virus, which can only survive in a limited range of conditions. It can only enter the body through naturally moist places and cannot penetrate unbroken skin. Prevention therefore involves ensuring that there is a barrier to the virus, for example condoms, and that skin-piercing equipment is not contaminated.
HIV facts (source: Terrence Higgins Trust)
• Around 71,000 cases of HIV have been reported since the early 1980s
• 16,049 people with HIV have died since the early 1980s
• There were 7,275 new diagnoses in 2004 and it’s estimated that the total number of new diagnoses for 2005 will be around 7,750
• In 2004, it was estimated that 34% of people living with HIV did not know about their infection
• Men living with HIV outnumber women who have HIV by 2:1
• 43% of all new diagnoses of HIV in 2004 were in London
• 30% of new HIV diagnoses in 2004 were among men who have sex with men
Latest articles on HIV and Aids
Asylum seekers: HIV and Aids
Refugee charities, HIV charities and social workers have all expressed concern at the way asylum seekers with HIV are treated in the UK.
The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is currently investigating the treatment of asylum seekers. This will include people affected by HIV/Aids.
The National Aids Trust has submitted evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights committee’s consultation.The Refugee Council report Denying healthcare looks at the plight of failed asylum seekers who are ill, including people living with HIV and Aids.
Community Care article on the Refugee Council report, Denying healthcare.