International AIDS Day 2010
Although awareness of HIV and AIDS may seem higher than ever before, millions of people continue to be infected every year.
31 years after the virus was discovered, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reports that more than 33.4 million people worldwide are living with the disease.
The 1st of December marks World AIDS Day as an opportunity to remember, educate yourself and protect yourself against an infection that could still happen to you!
AIDS and HIV - a quick reminder
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) affects the immune system by progressively reducing its effectiveness until the infected individual can no longer fight off opportunistic infections and tumours.
AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
AIDS in 2010: What are the issues?
The theme for World AIDS Day 2010 is 'Universal Access and Human Rights'. Global leaders have pledged to work towards universal access to HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention and care, recognising these as fundamental human rights.
In low- and middle-income countries, less than half of those in need of antiretroviral therapy are receiving it, and too many do not have access to adequate care services.
But HIV and AIDS do not only affect poor countries.
I don't know anyone with Aids - do I?
In the Western world, HIV and AIDS still carry a stigma. In the UK today, more people than ever before are living with HIV and AIDS, but less people report knowing someone infected.
According to the Health Protection Agency 's HIV in the United Kingdom: 2010 report released this month, the number of people living with HIV in the UK reached an estimated 86,500 in 2009. But worryingly a quarter of these people were unaware of their infection.
Just over 1% of the UK population is infected by HIV or AIDS - the chances of knowing someone HIV positive are larger than you may think.
Where do we stand in the fight against AIDS?
Even today, there is no cure for HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or for Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) itself, however daily medication treatments can slow the progression of the illness and gives sufferers a chance at a reasonably long life albeit with the possibilities of side-effects.
Access to treatment and medication has been improved dramatically on a global scale. According to Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS and Under Secretary-General of the United Nations, the number of new infections has been reduced by 20%.
Still, some 30 million people have lost their lives to AIDS and Sidibé warns: "An estimated 10 million people are waiting for treatment. We must remember that punitive laws and stigma still hurt too many people around the world."
Can I get AIDS if someone spits at me?
There are still many myths and misconceptions but one of the most common misunderstandings is how people get infected by HIV.
The chances of catching HIV through salvia is minimal as saliva does not contain enough of the virus to cause an infection. However, if saliva contains any blood, from bleeding gums or ulcers etc. the risk of infection is significantly increased.
By far the most common ways HIV is passed on are sex without a condom with an infected person and sharing infected needles or other injecting drug equipment.
An HIV-positive mother has a 25% chance of passing on an HIV infection to her child through pregnancy, labor and delivery. However, with antiretroviral therapy and a caesarean section birth, the chances are reduced to just 1%.
HIV and AIDS infections are not just restricted to the gay community either. The HPA reported that in 2009, an estimated 1,130 people acquired their infection through
heterosexual intercourse, accounting for a third of heterosexuals diagnosed.
What you can do
Be informed, practice safe sex and don't be afraid to talk about HIV and AIDS. Lifting the taboo is one small step that could make a big difference.
'When we decided to become serious, my boyfriend and I went to get checked for all sexually transmitted infections together, and that included an HIV test,' says Claire Higgins*, 30, from Berkshire.
'It was my first one and I was terrified - not that I thought I had HIV but you just never know these days! We didn't have sex without a condom until both our tests came back clear.'
As well as getting yourself regularly tested and being open about STI's in general you can also support HIV and AID charities.
There are plenty of organisations and associations that are in need of funds and support.
If you can't afford to donate money then why not do something to earn charitable donations such as a fun run or even a marathon.
Find out more about HIV and AIDS and how you can get involved by visiting the World AIDS Day campaign page.