The HIV Pandemic

by Michael_Koger

Many issues account for the global spread of human immunodeficiency virus infection.

The pandemic which has resulted from human immunodeficiency virus infection may have begun when the responsible microbe spread from non-human primates to humans more than a century ago. As with many other infectious diseases, humans have transmitted it to other people through contact with blood and body fluids [1]. Human travel and migration have enabled the virus to reach every continent of the globe.

Health Education

Lack of education about this devastating disease has largely contributed to its spread.  For example, many people do not understand that use of condoms significantly reduces the risk of transmission of sexually transmitted infections.  The importance of a mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner over a long period of time is another essential component to stop transmission of HIV.

Serial monogamous relationships are really a form of multiple sexual partners.  Though they may not be as risky as multiple concurrent relationships, serial monogamous situations pose considerable risk for the disease.

Screening for any disease is a form of secondary prevention as its purpose is early detection of disease.  This enables the individual to know whether he or she has HIV infection and to inform the sexual partner so they can make a decision about condoms, other sexual partners, or whether they want to continue the relationship.

Groups at Risk

Over half of new cases of HIV infection in the United States each year occur in men who have sex with men.  These clients have considerable risk for acquisition of HIV, syphilis, and other sexually transmitted diseases [2].  Women who have sex with women can acquire it from their partners too through the use of sex toys which they share and contact with the partner's genitalia. 

Injection drug use, in which people may share needles or syringes, poses a high risk of disease spread.  This especially applies to HIV and viral hepatitis as there is direct contact with the person's bloodstream and the blood-borne pathogen.  Furthermore, the exchange of sex for money or illicit drugs increases the risk that a person will acquire HIV infection [2].

Finally, adolescents and young adults are at risk for this disease [1].  It has to do with their frequent change of sexual partners and failure to use barrier protection when they have sex.  Many people, young and old, do not understand that several methods of contraception do not protect against the transmission of HIV and other diseases.  For example, hormonal methods such as implant or oral contraception will not prevent the acquisition of sexually transmitted diseases.

In conclusion, the acquisition and spread of sexually transmitted diseases are very complex, and health education, screening, political measures, and other interventions are essential to control the pandemic.


1.  Centers for Disease Control.  (2013).  HIV testing.  Retrieved April 6, 2013.

2.  El-Sadr, W., Mayer, K., and Hodder, S.  AIDS in America--Forgotten but not gone.  New England Journal of Medicine 2010; 362:  967-970.   

3.  Photograph is a thin-section transmission electron micrograph of human immunodeficiency virus particles and reprinted with permission from Centers for Disease Control/Dr. A Harrison/Dr. P. Feorino.


The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact their physician for advice.

Updated: 04/10/2013, Michael_Koger
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