Dec 18, 2011

[Technicolor Musings] Fighting HIV / AIDS is ESSE

Last December 9, 2011, our company clinic partnered with The Love Yourself Project to facilitate an HIV / AIDS 101 learning session for members of the leadership team. It was a pretty productive 4-hour session and I have to admit that I walked away with a lot of good information and new insights on HIV / AIDS, its prevention and other information. I feel a lot better equipped to answer HIV / AIDS related questions now and it only seems fair to spread the word and get more people on board with the right ideas when it comes to this virus.

One of the biggest takeaways for me was the concept of the acronym ESSE for trying to figure out whether or not you may have exposed yourself to increased risk of HIV infection. And if there's one thing everyone should know when it comes to HIV prevention, this is probably one of the bigger ticket items.

ESSE, depending on your school of thought, typically stands for Exit, Survive, Sufficient and Entry among health practioners and HIV educators. All four conditions need to be met in order to ensure infection.

EXIT refers to whether or not infected blood, semen or vaginal fluid found a way to leave the body of the person living with HIV.

SURVIVE refers to whether or not the infected medium was subjected to an environment that it can survive. HIV cells do not survive for long outside the human body and exposure to air is particularly lethal to it along with other temperature changes.

SUFFICIENT refers to whether or not sufficient quantities of the infected medium are present for risk of infection. Saliva may have HIV cells present but typically they are not in sufficient quantities to prove as a risk of infection. However any direct blood-to-blood contact is typically deemed a sufficient quantity regardless of amount.

ENTRY of course refers to how the infected medium will enter the other person who does not have HIV / AIDS. This typically means contact with the bloodstream, thus we need to consider whether or not the person has any open wounds or sores that have been exposed to the infected medium.

HIV Particle
Image by AJC1 via Flickr
For example, if a person living with HIV cuts himself while swimming in the same pool as you. While blood may exit from your friend, the medium isn't friendly for the survival of the likes of HIV (given the temperature difference and of course the chlorine) so chances of you getting infected by drinking the water are negligible.

Then there's the question of oral sex which comes up all the time. For the average person the risk is very low since there are no immediate entry points for the infected semen to penetrate and your stomach is full of acids which makes for an environment that reduces the virus's survival chances. However if you have bleeding gums or open sores / lacerations in your mouth, then there is a risk of infection, albeit still a lower one.

Of course ultimately you need to get tested to determine whether or not you actually have HIV cells present in your body (the discussion regarding signs and symptoms of HIV is rather moot when you really get down to it), ESSE remains to be a good guide to consider your risk factors and whether or not you should freak out because you sat next to a person living with AIDS at the cafeteria. At the same time, it also gives you a good basis for rethinking how you treat people that you know to be living with HIV / AIDS. You're not going to catch it just be being friends with them or shaking their hands.

Educate yourself and disspell all those HIV / AIDS myths! Being informed is the best way of fighting this virus and helping bring down the incidents of infection in the Philippines and around the world.

Note: In case you didn't get it, the title of this post is meant to be a pun. ESSE? Easy? Get it?
Gah, I know, I know - I should leave comedy to the professionals. =P
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  1. Thanks for this informative post. I'm really skeptical of the low risk you'll get infected through oral sex. I got the point of the Stomach's intense environment and the absence of cuts and sores, but I think they failed to point out that the oral cavity--specially the area under your tongue--is highly vascular. Certain medications are administered sublingually to promote rapid absorption. Does this serves a route for the virus to enter the system?  

  2. Indeed - low risk isn't no risk so factors like direct absorption within the mouth remains a possibility. However the factors related to the quantity of infected medium and how long you have it in your mouth to actually get absorbed comes into play. Thus statistically, chances remain lower than most, but the possibility of infection will always be there when protection isn't involved.

  3. So its either you have to spit it out or swallow it immediately.

  4. Haha, true enough! Or make sure he wears a condom even during the blow job.

  5. but it significantly reduces the sensation :p

  6. Well I can certainly agree with you there, hehe.

    I suppose it all boils down to what level of risk are you willing to take in exchange for the experience. If you trust the person absolutely, then go for it. But if feel otherwise, then you may need to start thinking about what is okay for you and what isn't.