Being young sometimes means feeling like nothing can ever hurt us.

That's kind of true: our bones are strong, we quickly recover from injuries or illnesses, and we're usually not afraid of getting hurt while performing reckless stunts!

Many of us are aware of really serious things like HIV/AIDS, but we don't feel affected by them.

It's kind of like when we hear about an earthquake or a hurricane somewhere far away: we feel awful for those innocent people, but it's so far away we think we're completely safe right where we are.

Contrary to popular belief, HIV/AIDS doesn't only affect high-risk people and can impact the teenage population. We need to take it seriously. Know the facts and protect ourselves!

To commemorate World AIDS Day (December 1st), let's learn more about HIV/AIDS.

1. What's the difference between HIV and AIDS?

Simply put, the "Human Immunodeficiency Virus" (HIV) is the virus that causes the "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome" (AIDS).

HIV weakens your body's natural defences by disrupting the immune system, making it harder to fight infections that would otherwise pose no real threat.

AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection. At this stage, the body's immune system is totally broken down, making infections and diseases that can be easily treated deadly to someone with AIDS.

2. How does HIV/AIDS affect the body?

HIV/AIDS disrupts and weakens the body's ability to fight germs, infections, and diseases.

The tricky part is that symptoms of HIV/AIDS may not appear for as long as 10 years or more, which means that some people may feel and look healthy for years and are not even aware that they have the virus!

That's why it's important for those who are sexually active to test for HIV regularly.

When detected early, HIV can be prevented from being spread unknowingly. An early detection allows the infected to seek treatment to manage the illness. This means that people living with HIV can live a fruitful and productive life just like any other individual.

3. How does HIV/AIDS get transmitted?

HIV is transmitted by:​
  • unprotected sexual intercourse with a HIV infected partner
  • 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
  • receiving infected blood and blood products (e.g. organs, plasma).
HIV CANNOT be caught by kissing on the cheek, hugging, cuddling, or shaking hands with an infected person, and it CANNOT be transmitted by sneezes, coughs, or shared drinking glasses.

4. Is there a cure for HIV/AIDS?

Although there is no cure to AIDS, there are some treatments to manage HIV.

Doctors have been able to control the virus once a person is infected, which means the onset of AIDS can be prevented or delayed.

People living with HIV are treated with a combination of antiretroviral drugs to help their bodies resist infections, stay healthy, and prolong their lives.

Every day, the medical community learns more about how HIV/AIDS works, but until a real cure is found, prevention remains the best solution.

5. How can I prevent HIV/AIDS?

In general, drug and alcohol abuse can make you take risks you normally wouldn't take and make you forget about precautions.

If you're thinking of getting a tattoo or a piercing, you should always make sure the needles and the equipment used are sterile.

Same thing when you get blood drawn in hospitals: always check that everything is new and sterile.

Just remember the ABCD to prevent from getting HIV/AIDS:​
  • A is for abstaining from sex until after marriage.,
  • B is for being faithful to one partner,
  • C is for correct and consistent condom use, and
  • D is for early detection.

6. How can I tell if someone has HIV/AIDS?

You can't tell whether someone is infected simply by looking at them.

Someone can be infected but have no symptoms or look perfectly healthy.

They might also feel perfectly healthy and not even know they are infected, which can lead to them spreading the virus to others through high-risk behaviours without even knowing it!

The only way to know if a person is infected is to take an HIV test.

Some symptoms of AIDS include:
  • extreme weakness or fatigue
  • rapid weight loss
  • frequent fevers that last for several weeks with no explanation
  • heavy sweating at night
  • swollen lymph glands
  • minor infections that cause skin rashes and sores
  • white spots in the mouth or throat
  • chronic diarrhoea
  • a cough that won't go away
  • in girls, severe yeast infections that don't respond to usual treatment

7. What does the HIV/AIDS test involve?

In Singapore you can get yourself tested for STIs or HIV/AIDS at any of the following: Polyclinics, Private Clinics and Hospitals or at any of the 10 Anonymous HIV Test Sites.

As a general rule it is recommended to wait three months after a risky behaviour before having a HIV/AIDS test, as the virus is difficult to detect immediately after infection. During these 3 months, it is advised to not engage in any sexual activity until you are tested.

The test can be either a blood test or a swab of the inside of your cheek. If you also want to be tested for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), they may take a urine sample.

Depending on what type of test is done, results may take from a few minutes to several days. In any case, you shouldn't have sexual contact with anyone while you wait for the results.

Some clinics will ask you to follow up for counselling to get your results, whether the test is negative or positive.

8. How/where can I seek help or more information?

If you want to find out more about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, you can call the HPB helpline at 1800 223 1313 or find out more from the DSC Clinic website, the Action for AIDS website.

In any case, it's always better to talk to someone than to worry on your own!​