The week of Feb.14 is designated “condom awareness” week. I don’t know why that particular week was chosen. It’s probably because Feb. 13 is National Tortellini day. Nevertheless, one can’t be aware of condoms without being aware of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). And one cannot be aware of STIs without being aware of the most dreaded of all STIs, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
What makes HIV particularly menacing is how it attacks the body. The HIV virus infects, of all things, the white blood cells. The white blood cells are the “special forces” of the body’s immune system: they roam around in tiny dark suits with even tinier ear pieces looking for infection-causing organisms. When they come across one, they destroy it without trial, warrant, habeus corpus or ipso facto.
Most viruses avoid white blood cells like single groomsmen during a garter toss. But HIV does the exact opposite. It actually seeks out white blood cells and tries to infect them. Once inside the white blood cell, HIV multiplies, filling the cell with HIV replicas. Eventually, the white blood cell bursts open, releasing thousands of viruses into the bloodstream. The process continues until so many white blood cells are destroyed that the host is no longer able to fight off infections.
At this stage, an HIV infection becomes known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). This is when the body is rendered helpless against “opportunistic infections.” Opportunistic infections are infections that normally cannot gain hold in the body because the immune system is very good at clearing them.
This is why it is said that “nobody dies of AIDS.” The disease itself simply opens the door to the china shop, disables its security system and spreads bull bait all over.
But opportunistic infections either have notoriously short memories or are pathologically optimistic. Despite their repeated failures, they keep trying to enter the body, hoping that the outcome will be different. When they enter the body of someone with AIDS, they find that they can roam around as they please and infect whatever parts of the body they want without so much as a suspicious glance. The white blood cells are nowhere to be found and the opportunistic infection has its way with the body. This is why it is said that “nobody dies of AIDS.” The disease itself simply opens the door to the china shop, disables its security system and spreads bull bait all over.
Despite all its destructive power, HIV is a surprisingly delicate virus. It cannot survive outside the body. It needs bodily fluids to transport it in a warm, comfortable environment to a new host or else it dies.
Unfortunately, HIV has no cure. But there are medications that can help keep the virus from destroying white blood cells. As long as the medications are taken regularly, they can help keep the virus from replicating. But if someone with HIV stops taking their medication, they run the risk of the virus becoming active and destroying white blood cells again.
So while HIV can be a very serious health hazard, fortunately, some precautions can go a long way in preventing the disease. For starters, condoms are very effective in preventing the transmission of HIV.
Since HIV can remain dormant for years, it is important to be tested whenever there is a suspicion of exposure, such as sexual contact or contact with potentially contaminated blood. Detecting the disease early makes treatment more effective and can suppress the virus to reduce risk of transmission to others.
UCSB Student Health is offering PreP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to reduce the possibility of getting HIV in high risk students.
Our very own Health & Wellness will be doing free HIV testing on Feb. 14th. (That’s the day AFTER National Tortellini Day.)
Using safer sexual practices and appropriate safety gear when handling bodily fluids can help reduce the risk of transmission of HIV and allow the white blood cells to continue enforcing the rule of law in our bodies.
Dr. Javanbakht wants you to practice safe sex.