Take Charge of Your Health
An article by Dr. Kirtland Culmer

Whoís Afraid of the Big Bad AIDS
It is again time to remind the Bahamian population that health is no accident, it should not be taken for granted, and it should be pursued with serious but cheerful motivation. So if we know that HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death in Bahamians between the ages of fifteen and forty-four, should we not NOW stop skylarking.

I know that you are bombarded from day to day, in the newspapers, television and radio, on road signs and in schools, with education and slogans about this disease, but can we have such a thing as two many reminders? Here is some information on the five stages of the disease that you need to place seriously in you head, and do not forget it: -

(a) The incubation period is that time immediately after a person is infected. It may last from two weeks to six months. During this time the person may have no symptoms, the or she may test negative, pass the disease on to other partners, and other viruses can easily infect them.

(b) During the acute primary infection, they may get flu-like symptoms, swollen glands, they may test positive, and this stage can last for one week to two months.

(c) There can be an inactive period lasting from one to fifteen years. During this time, there may be no apparent symptoms.

(d) Then there can be a symptomatic period during which time, there is a weakening of the immune system, tell-tale signs in the blood, weight loss, diarrhoea, swollen lymph glands, flu-like symptoms and fever.

(e) AIDS. Tell-tale signs in the blood, the waisting syndrome, opportunistic infections and, finally death.

A most important thing to see here is that during the first three stages, which may go on for as long as fifteen years, the unsuspecting victim cannot tell, if a person is infected by the way he or she looks. Furthermore, a person may be infected in the first six months, and he/she may be capable of transmitting the virus while testing negative at the same time.

Generally, how is this disease transmitted? Statistics from the United States suggest that in 25.7% of cases are transmitted by sharing needles for drugs, tattooing and ring piercing, blood transfusion and medications. In 63.2%, it is vaginal, oral or anal sex. 1.5% to 7% in babies before birth, after birth, during birth and by breast-feeding. Kissing, biting, or spitting may transmit another 7.8%. Please note that except in the case of sexual intercourse, it is hardly possible to become infected unless there are lesions in the mouth or gums. Unless there is bleeding in the mouth, it is not likely that the disease can be spread in this way.

HIV is present in bodily fluids such as blood and blood products, semen, vaginal and cervical secretions and breast milk. Health workers also have to be concerned about amniotic fluid, cerebro-spinal fluid, and bone marrow. The HIV virus can last at room temperature in blood for two weeks. It will never die in blood that is cooler than 45 degrees. It will never die in a syringe. Once blood is completely dry, the virus is dead.

How does one take charge against this deadly disease? Be good! Abstinence gives 100% protection. Do nothing, fear nothing. For married couples having moral and legal sex, both partners must aspire to keep each other from risk. Everyday we see these tragic cases in our offices where one partner strays, brings illness, death and disaster to the other partner, and tragedy to the entire family. 88% protection is afforded by the use of the male condom. The female condom has a 79% safety record. If you canít be good, please be careful. Although these methods are not foolproof, any other approach is simply a wishful walk with pain and death.

Explore the avenue of prevention by all means. If you have the slightest doubt about your habits and lifestyle, get tested. I saw a teen age young lady in my office recently who appeared as a haggard bag of bones with chest pain, cough, skin lesions, oral thrush and several other signs of infectious invasion. She had been fooling around with a promiscuous young man for two years, felt progressively ill, but only came for help when she hardly had the energy to move. Her chief concern was how she had hurt her mother with her lifestyle. Take charge if you test positive. If you get treatment before symptoms occur, treatment can prevent or significantly delay the onset of complicating infections for many years, thus ensuring a good quality of life. Testing also helps you to avoid spreading the disease to others. Infected persons are at great risk from all types of viruses. You ought to know that viral infections such as herpes simplex, shingles, and hepatitis are more commonly found in association with HIV infections. Tuberculosis, certain types of pneumonias are also quite prevalent. A skin cancer called Kaposiís Sarcoma is HIV related.

Cancers like lymphomas, cervical cancer, anal and testicular cancer are more commonly found in the HIV infected. There is still not a cure for HIV/AIDS, the prevention effort can avoid the dismal picture completely. If infection is contracted by negligence or deception, take heart and take charge by testing, early detection, referral to the appropriate doctors or clinics, modern treatment, and a great opportunity to live a productive, healthy life for many years.