Who is at Risk from HIV?

Risk of Contracting HIV

HIV isn’t fussy. Every single one of us, poor or rich, young or old, is at risk if we don’t take sensible precautions to avoid it.

It’s a disease which stretches across the globe. For many years it has been a major epidemic in sub Saharan Africa where two thirds of the world’s infected (around 20 million people) live. People are at higher risk there because of poverty and the knock on effect of poor education and a lack of safe sex awareness. Inadequate or non existent healthcare programs for HIV women has led to the virus being passed onto their babies.

So Who is at Risk of catching and contracting HIV?

Certainly in African countries where there is widespread civil unrest, mass rape is commonplace so women are at much greater risk.

But this isn’t just an African problem. There has been a sharp increase in the incidence of HIV in China with more than one million new cases in 2003 alone. The number of HIV cases is also rising in Western Europe and America.

So why are people in developed countries still at risk despite increased public awareness of the problem? Mainly it is down to intravenous drug use and sharing dirty needles. But the number of HIV cases among young gay men is also on the rise suggesting that they are either not receiving or not listening to safe sex messages.

Basically none of us is immune although some people are more at risk of HIV than others.

People at the highest risk of contracting HIV are those who have unprotected sex. Certain types of sex carry a higher risk of infection than others. Couples who engage in unprotected anal sex risk spreading the virus from an infected partner into the delicate anal tissue which may tear during intercourse.

Unprotected vaginal sex is also high risk as both semen and vaginal fluids can carry the virus.

If a person is an intravenous drug user and shares a dirty needle which has been used by someone who is HIV positive the virus can be passed on that way. It only takes a microscopic amount of blood to carry the virus.

An unborn child of an HIV infected mother is also at high risk. Each year worldwide nearly 700,000 babies contract HIV either during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. In poorer countries, formula baby milk for infants may not be available so infected mothers must rely on breast feeding. Inevitably the number of HIV positive infants is on the rise in those countries.

HIV is also on the rise among heterosexual young women who are putting themselves at risk through unprotected sex. Complacency is cited as the major factor behind this rise. AIDS and HIV have been around for more than 20 years and people are forgetting the dire doom and gloom public health messages of the 1980s.

There has been some suggestion that people carrying a certain type of gene are less likely to get HIV or develop AIDS. The American National Institutes of Health have discovered that the gene, which helps the body to fight the virus, encodes a protein which interacts with a receptor protein that HIV uses to get into and infect the immune system. It’s possible that in future this could lead to a screening test to see whether someone is susceptible to the virus.

 

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