HIV and AIDS

HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, occurs in the later stage of HIV infection. A person infected with HIV can take up to 10 years to develop AIDS.

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What Is HIV and How Does It Affect a Person’s Health?

The HIV infection weakens the body's immune defences by destroying CD4 (T-cell) lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that protect us against attacks by bacteria, viruses and other harmful pathogens. When these white blood cells are destroyed or weakened, they will no longer be able to defend the body effectively against infections.

In addition, HIV infection increases the severity of some common diseases and conditions. It also increases the risk of getting some cancers.

What Is AIDS?

A person infected with HIV can take up to 10 years to develop Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is the end stage of HIV infection and is fatal. A person with AIDS usually dies between one and a half to three years after developing AIDS, from various infections and cancers. 

How is HIV Transmitted?

Over 400 new cases of HIV are diagnosed every year in Singapore. Visit this link for the latest annual figures. Sexual transmission remains the main mode of HIV transmission among Singaporeans.

HIV is transmitted:
during unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV-infected partner.
through the sharing of injection needles and other piercing instruments used for tattooing or acupuncture that are tainted with HIV.
from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy, at birth, or through breastfeeding.
by receiving infected blood and blood products (e.g. organs, plasma).

Note: HIV is NOT spread through social contact such as hugging and touching. Neither can it be transmitted through contact with objects such as food or toilet seats, or by biting insects such as mosquitoes. 

HIV Treatment

Currently, there is no cure for HIV infection.

However, there are treatments in the form of anti-retroviral therapy that can help improve the patient's immune system so as to delay the onset of AIDS. These drugs act by suppressing the replication of the HIV virus, thus delaying the spread of HIV in the body and the onset of opportunistic infections. People with HIV who undergo anti-retroviral therapy are now likely to have a near-normal life expenctancy. 

For more information, you can call HealthLine at 1800 223 1313 to speak to a nurse advisor.

How Can I Protect Myself from HIV Infection?

You can protect yourself from HIV by:
not engaging in casual sex.
being faithful to your partner and being honest about your sexual history. If you are both unsure of your HIV status, consider going for HIV screening together.
practicing safe sex especially if you have multiple sex partners, for example by using condoms consistently and correctly. Even though condoms do not give 100 percent protection from HIV, they provide at least 90 percent protection.
always remembering to use a new latex condom during each sexual intercourse, and following the manufacturer's instructions.
avoiding the consumption of alcohol and drugs as these can affect your judgment, causing you to engage in risky sexual behaviours.
using only clean, sterile needles and choosing a reliable service provider when getting a piercing, tattoo or an injection.
accepting only HIV-screened blood for blood transfusions.

You cannot tell if someone has HIV based on appearances alone. People with HIV usually have no signs or symptoms.

How Do I Know If I Have HIV?

Usually, an HIV-infected person may not notice any symptoms. Some people may however experience the following common symptoms of HIV:
tiredness
weight loss
prolonged fever
night sweats
skin rash
persistent diarrhoea
lowered resistance to infections

HIV screening is the only way to know for sure if one is infected with the virus or not. Most clinics offer routine HIV screening services, with some medical clinics offering rapid HIV testing as well. Rapid HIV tests produce very quick results. In approximately 20 minutes, you may be able to know your HIV status. 

The identities of people who go for HIV screening and those found to be HIV-positive will be kept strictly confidential. Getting tested for HIV and AIDS in Singapore can be done anonymously.

Persons engaging in high-risk sexual behaviour (e.g. having multiple sexual partners or engaging in casual sex) should get tested regularly so that any sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are detected and treated as early as possible. HIV treatment can significantly delay the onset of AIDS and reduce the risk of death.

You can also get yourself tested for STIs or HIV/AIDS at polyclinics, private clinics and hospitals.

What To Do If You Have HIV/AIDS

Under the Infectious Diseases Act, it is an offence for people who know that they are infected with HIV or AIDS in Singapore to not inform their sexual partners of their HIV status before engaging in sexual intercourse.

If you believe that you have HIV or AIDS or are at risk of contracting the virus, you must:
Take reasonable precautions to protect your sexual partner (e.g. by using condoms) or
Go for HIV testing to confirm that you are HIV-negative or
Inform your partner of the risk of contracting HIV



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