About Us
   Products & Services
   Registration Form
   Volunteer
   Youth Center
   Contact Us
           
 You are in :: Home > Q&As
Articles
Q&As




HIV/AIDS
1. What is HIV?
2. What is AIDS?
3. How quickly do people infected with HIV develop AIDS?
4. How many people are affected by HIV/AIDS?
5. How is HIV transmitted?
6. How is HIV not transmitted?
7. Do mosquitoes or other insects spread HIV?
8. Can you tell whether someone has HIV or AIDS?
9. How can I know whether I'm HIV-infected?
10. Should I get tested?
11. How can I get tested?
12. What is the Window Period?
13. Where can I get tested?
14. How can I reduce my risk of becoming infected with HIV through Sexual Contact?
15. How can I avoid acquiring HIV from a Contaminated Syringe?
16. Is there a link between HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)?
17. Are there other ways to avoid getting HIV through sex?
18. Are some people at greater risk of HIV infection than others?
19. Are women especially vulnerable to HIV?
20. Are young people at significant risk of HIV infection?
21. Are there treatments for HIV/AIDS?
22. Is there a cure for HIV/AIDS?
23. Is there a vaccine to prevent HIV infection?
24. How can one identify a person with HIV?
25. Where can I get more information about HIV and AIDS?



1. What is HIV?
HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS. HIV is a member of a group of viruses called retroviruses, it infects human calls and uses the energy and nutrients provided by those cells to grow and reproduce.
back to top



2. What is AIDS?
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a disease in which the body's immune system breaks down and is unable to fight off certain infections, known as "opportunistic infections," and other illness that take advantage of a weakened immune system.
  • When a person is infected with HIV, the virus enters the body and lives and multiplies primarily in the white blood cells. These are the immune cells that normally protect us from disease. The hallmark of HIV infection is the progressive loss of a specific type of immune cell called T-helper or CD4 cells. As the virus grows, it damages or kills these and other cells, weakening the immune system and leaving the individual vulnerable to various opportunistic infections and other illnesses, ranging from pneumonia to cancer.
  • The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines someone as having a clinical diagnosis of AIDS if they have tested positive for HIV and meet one or both of this conditions:
    • They have experienced one or more AIDS - related infections or illnesses;
    • The number of CD4 cells has reached or fallen below 200 per cubic millimeter of blood (a measurement known as CD4 - cell count). In healthy individuals, the CD4 count normally ranges from 450 to 1,200/mm3.
back to top



3. How quickly do people infected with HIV develop AIDS?
In some people, the CD4 cell decline and opportunistic infections that signal AIDS develop soon after initial infection with HIV. Most people remain asymptomatic for 10 to 12 years, and a few for much longer. As with most diseases, early medical care can help prolong a person's life.
back to top



4. How many people are affected by HIV/AIDS?
The Joint Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that at the end of year 2002 there are over 42 million people living with HIV or AIDS worldwide. Most of them do not know they carry HIV and may be spreading the virus to others. In Malaysia, as at December 2002 over 51,000 people have HIV infection. In South & South East Asia, as many as 6.0 million adults and children have been infected and in Sub – Sahara there are 29.4 million people have been infected by the year 2002. AIDS has replaced malaria and tuberculosis as the world's deadliest infectious disease among adults and is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. Over 13 million children have been orphaned by the epidemic.
back to top



5. How is HIV transmitted?
A person who is HIV - infected carries the virus in certain body fluids, including blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. The virus can be transmitted only if such HIV - infected fluids enter the bloodstream of another person. This kind of direct entry can occur (1) through the linings of the vagina, rectum, mouth, and the opening at the tip of the penis; (2) through intravenous injection with a syringe; or (3) through a break in the skin, such as a cut or a sore. A pregnant woman who is HIV positive can also transmit the infection to her child. Usually, HIV is transmitted through:
  • Unprotected sexual intercourse (either vagina or anal) with someone who is HIV – infected
    Women are at the greater risk of HIV infection through vaginal sex than men, although the virus can also be transmitted from women to men. Anal sex (whether male – male or male – female) poses a high risk mainly to the receptive partner, because the lining of the anus and rectum are extremely thin and filled with small blood vessels that can be easily injured during intercourse.

  • Unprotected oral sex with someone who is HIV- infected
    There are far fewer cases of HIV transmission attributed to oral sex than to either vaginal or anal intercourse, but oral – genital contact poses a clear risk of HIV – infection, particularly when ejaculation occurs in the mouth. The risk is increased when either partner has cuts or sores, such as those caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which can allow the virus to enter the bloodstream

  • Sharing needles or syringes with someone who is HIV-infected
    People who inject drugs should never reuse or share syringes, water, or drug preparation equipment. This includes needles or syringes used to inject illegal drugs such as heroin, as well as steroids. Other types syringes, such as those used for body piercing and tattoos, can also carry HIV.

  • Infection during pregnancy, childbirth, or breast-feeding (mother-to-infant transmission)
    Any women who is pregnant or considering becoming pregnant and thinks she may have been exposed to HIV -- even if the exposure occurred years ago -- should seek testing and counseling. Mother-to-infant transmission has been reduced in Malaysia where pregnant women are tested for HIV, and those who test positive are provided with drugs to prevent transmission and counselled not to breast-feed.

    Breast milk of an HIV infected mother contains HIV which can be transmitted to the baby. However, because of the benefits of breast-feeding, the World Health Organization recommends that in situations where infectious disease and malnutrition are the main cause of infant deaths and the infant mortality rate is high, mothers should breast-feed their babies, even if they are known to be infected with HIV, as the risk to the baby is less than the risks involved in artificial feeding.
back to top



6. How is HIV not transmitted?
HIV is not an easy virus to pass from one person to another.
  • It is not transmitted through food or air (for instance, by coughing or sneezing).

  • There has never been a case where a person was infected by a household member, relative, co-worker, or friend through casual or everyday contact such as sharing eating utensils and bathroom facilities or hugging and kissing.

  • You cannot get HIV from giving blood at a blood bank or other established blood collection center.

  • Sweat, tears, vomit, faeces and urine contain minimal amount of HIV. HIV is unable to infect through these fluids.

  • Mosquitos, fleas and other insects do not transmit HIV.
back to top



7. Do mosquitoes or other insects spread HIV?
  • The evidence clearly shows that HIV is not spread by mosquitoes and other insects. For example, bedbugs, lice and fleas in the household of people infected with HIV do not spread the virus to the other people living in these households.

  • If mosquitoes were responsible for spreading HIV, then people of all ages would be infected. In fact, children before puberty are rarely infected, unless they were born to infected mothers or had a transfusion with infected blood.

  • We know that HIV lives in some cells of the human body but that it does not live in the cells of insects. Therefore, mosquitoes and other insects are not a suitable home for HIV.

  • HIV is not like the malaria parasite which lives very well in the mosquito and spreads to people when mosquitoes bite, because it is in the fluid that the mosquito injects.
back to top



8. Can you tell whether someone has HIV or AIDS?
You cannot tell by looking at someone whether he or she is infected with HIV or has AIDS. An infected person can appear completely healthy. But anyone infected with HIV can infect other people, even if no symptoms are present.
back to top



9. How can I know whether I'm HIV-infected?
Immediately after infection, some people may develop mild, temporary flu-like symptoms or persistent swollen glands. Even if you look and feel healthy, you may be infected. The only way to know your HIV status is to be tested for HIV antibodies -- proteins the body produces in an effort to fight off infection. This usually requires a blood sample. If a erson's blood has HIV antibodies, that means the person is infected.
back to top



10. Should I get tested?
If you think you might have been exposed to HIV, you should get tested as soon as possible. Here's why:
  • Even in the early stages of infection, you can take concrete steps to protect your long-term health. If you don't begin taking medications right away, regular check-ups with a doctor who has experience with HIV/AIDS will enable you to make the best decisions about how and when to begin treatment, without waiting until you get sick. Taking an active approach to managing HIV may give you many more years of healthy life than you would otherwise have.

  • If you are HIV-positive, you will be able to take the necessary precautions to protect others from becoming infected.

  • If you are HIV-positive and pregnant, you can take medications and other precautions to significantly reduce the risk of infecting your infant, including refraining from breast feeding.
back to top



11. How can I get tested?
Most people get themselves tested at private clinics, laboratories, or at government hospitals. However, it is important to seek testing at a place that also provides counseling about HIV and AIDS. Counselors can answer questions about high-risk behavior and suggest ways you can protect yourself and others in the future. They can also help you understand the meaning of the test results and refer you to local AIDS-related resources. Though less readily available, there is also a viral load test that can reveal the presence of HIV in the blood within three to five days of initial exposure, as well as highly accurate saliva tests that are nearly equivalent to blood tests in determining HIV antibody status.
back to top



12. What is the Window Period?
  • This is the time that the body takes to produce measurable amounts of antibodies after infection. For HIV, this period is usually 2-12 weeks; in rare instances it may be longer.

  • This means that if an HIV antibody test is taken during the “window” period it will be negative since the blood test is looking for antibodies that have not yet developed. But that person is already HIV infected and can transmit HIV to others.

  • People taking the test are advised, if the result is negative, to return for a re-test in 3 months by which time if the person had been infected, the antibodies are almost certain to have developed (they should avoid risk behaviours during the 3 months).

  • The most common test for HIV antibodies is called the ELISA test.
back to top



13. Where can I get tested?
Free, Confidential HIV Testing at Public Hospitals
Hospital Kuala Lumpur: (03) 2692 1044
Kuala Lumpur Hospital Emergency: (03) 2691 3814
Universiti Malaya Medical Center: (03) 7956 4422
Tunku Puan Rahimah Hospital (Klang): (03) 3372 3333

Confidential HIV Testing at Private Hospitals (for a fee)
Pantai Hospital (Bangsar): (03) 2282 5077
Pantai Hospital (Cheras): (03) 9132 2022
Subang Medical Centre: (03) 5634 1212
Pusat Rawatan Tawakal: (03) 4023 3599
back to top



14. How can I reduce my risk of becoming infected with HIV through Sexual Contact?
If you are sexually active, protect yourself from HIV infection by practising safe sex. Whenever you have sex, use condom. When used properly and consistently, condoms are extremely effective.
back to top



15. How can I avoid acquiring HIV from a Contaminated Syringe?
If you are injecting drugs of any type, including steroids, do not share syringes or other injection equipment with anyone else. Disinfecting previously used needles and syringes with bleach can reduce the risk of HIV transmission. If you are planning to have any part of your body pierced or to get a tattoo, be sure to see a qualified professional who uses sterile equipment.
back to top



16. Is there a link between HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)?
Having a sexually transmitted disease can increase your risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV. This is true whether you have open sores or breaks in the skin (as with syphilis, herpes and chancroid) or not (as with chlamydia and gonorrhea). Where there are breaks in the skin, HIV can enter and exit the body more easily. Even when there are breaks in the skin, STDs can cause biological changes that may make HIV transmission more likely. Studies show that HIV-infected individuals who are infected with another STD are three to five times more likely to contract or transmit the virus through sexual contact.
back to top



17. Are there other ways to avoid getting HIV through sex?
The male condom is the only widely available and inexpensive barrier against sexual transmission of HIV. Female condoms are fairly unpopular, still relatively expensive thus harder to obtain in Malaysia.
back to top


18. Are some people at greater risk of HIV infection than others?
HIV does not discriminate. It is not who you are, but what you do that determines whether you can become infected with HIV. Although the statistics for Malaysia show that the majority of cases are drug users, this is by no means the real picture of the epidemic in this country. Worldwide, sexual intercourse is by the far the most common mode of HIV transmission. There has been no reliable way to ascertain or assess the extent HIV has infected Malaysians through sexual transmission. Most Malaysians who are infected with HIV, DO NOT KNOW THAT THEY ARE INFECTED.
back to top



19. Are women especially vulnerable to HIV?
Women are four times more likely to contract HIV through vaginal sex with infected males than vice versa. This biological vulnerability is worsened by social and cultural factors that often undermine women’s ability to avoid sex with partners who are HIV-infected or to insist on condom use.
back to top



20. Are young people at significant risk of HIV infection?
Each year, half the number of new HIV cases worldwide are under the age of 25. Statistics show that by the age of 19, at least 10% of young people in this country have engaged in sexual intercourse, and more often than not, engaged in unsafe or unprotected sexual intercourse. Many young people also use drugs and alcohol, which can increase the likelihood that they will engage in high-risk sexual behavior.

back to top



21. Are there treatments for HIV/AIDS?
For many years, there were no effective treatments for HIV/AIDS. Today, people in Malaysia are able to obtain drugs to treat HIV infection and AIDS. Some of these are designed to treat the opportunistic infections and illnesses that affect people with HIV/AIDS. In addition, several types of drugs are used to prevent HIV itself from reproducing and destroying the body's immune system:
  • Reverse transcriptase inhibitors attack an HIV enzyme called reverse transcriptase. They include drugs (zidovudine (AZT), lamivudine (3TC), didanosine (ddl), stavudine (d4t), zalcitabine (ddC), efavirenz, nevirapine, abacavir, delavirdine.

  • Protease inhibitors attack the HIV enzyme protease, such drugs include indinavir, ritonavir, saquinavir, amprenavir and nelfinavir.
Many HIV patients are taking several of these drugs in combination – a regimen known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). When successful, such combination or 'cocktail' therapy can reduce the level of HIV in the bloodstream to very low, even undetectable levels and sometimes enables the body's CD4 immune cells to rebound to normal levels. Researchers are working to develop new drugs known as fusion inhibitors and entry inhibitors that can prevent HIV from attaching to and infecting human immune cells. Efforts are also underway to identify new targets for anti-HIV medications and to discover ways of restoring the ability of damaged immune systems to defend against HIV and the many illnesses that effect HIV-infected individuals.
back to top


22. Are there treatments for HIV/AIDS?
For many years, there were no effective treatments for HIV/AIDS. Today, people in Malaysia are able to obtain drugs to treat HIV infection and AIDS. Some of these are designed to treat the opportunistic infections and illnesses that affect people with HIV/AIDS. In addition, several types of drugs are used to prevent HIV itself from reproducing and destroying the body's immune system:
  • Reverse transcriptase inhibitors attack an HIV enzyme called reverse transcriptase. They include drugs (zidovudine (AZT), lamivudine (3TC), didanosine (ddl), stavudine (d4t), zalcitabine (ddC), efavirenz, nevirapine, abacavir, delavirdine.

  • Protease inhibitors attack the HIV enzyme protease, such drugs include indinavir, ritonavir, saquinavir, amprenavir and nelfinavir.
Many HIV patients are taking several of these drugs in combination – a regimen known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). When successful, such combination or 'cocktail' therapy can reduce the level of HIV in the bloodstream to very low, even undetectable levels and sometimes enables the body's CD4 immune cells to rebound to normal levels. Researchers are working to develop new drugs known as fusion inhibitors and entry inhibitors that can prevent HIV from attaching to and infecting human immune cells. Efforts are also underway to identify new targets for anti-HIV medications and to discover ways of restoring the ability of damaged immune systems to defend against HIV and the many illnesses that effect HIV-infected individuals.
back to top


23. Is there a cure for HIV/AIDS?
There is still no cure for HIV/AIDS. And while new drugs are helping some people with HIV/AIDS live longer, healthier lives, there are many problems associated with them:
  • Existing treatments do not work for some people with HIV/AIDS.

  • Some of the anti-HIV drugs are highly toxic and can cause serious side effects, including anemia, renal stones, liver failure etc.

  • HIV mutates constantly. In as many as 40% of people on HAART, HIV mutates into new viral strains that have become highly resistant to current drugs, and as many as 10% of those newly infected are acquiring drug-resistant strains of the virus.

  • Because treatment regimens are unpleasant and complex, many patients occasionally miss doses of their medication. Failure to take anti-HIV drugs on schedule and in the prescribed dosage can encourage the development of new viral strains that are resistant to current HIV drugs.

  • Even among those who do respond well to treatment, HAART does not eradicate HIV. The virus continues to replicate at low levels and often remains hidden in "reservoirs" in the body, such as the lymph nodes and brain.
Importantly, roughly 95% of all people with HIV/AIDS live developing world, where there is virtually no access to antiretroviral treatments In the U.S., HAART contributed to a significant decline in the annual number of AIDS-related deaths.
back to top



24. How can one identify a person with HIV?
It is not possible to know by physical appearance that a person has HIV, because the virus may remain in the body for many years without causing any symptoms or signs. Only a blood test taken after the "window" period can tell if a person has HIV.
back to top



25. Where can I get more information about HIV and AIDS?
There are many valuable sources of HIV/AIDS information, including the following:
  • Malaysian AIDS Council Hotlines
      24-hour Interactive Infoline on HIV/AIDS: (03) 7807 7007
    • Provides basic information on HIV transmission and testing
    • Callers can leave voice inquires which will be answered within 72 hours by staff

      Treatment Information Line: 1 800 881 848
    • Monday-Friday, 8.30 AM - 5.30 PM

  • Other Information & Support Hotlines
      PT Foundation: (03) 4044 5455 or (03) 4044 5466
    • Confidential information relating to HIV/AIDS and sexuality issues
      - Monday-Friday, 7.30 PM - 9.30 PM
    • Positive Living Line (for people with HIV): (03) 4044 9622
    The Befrienders: (03) 7956 8144
    Kuala Lumpur: (03) 7956 8145
    Ipoh: (05) 547 7933 / 547 7955
    Penang: (04) 281 5161 / 281 1108
    Malacca: (06) 284 2500

    AIDS Action Research Group: 04-6565984 (Penang)
back to top
Become Member!