HIV
TNM explores what is HIV, what you should know about it and how to prevent its spread.

At a government hospital in Sattur, Tamil Nadu last year, a lapse in screening culminated in a 23-year-old pregnant woman being transfused with HIV infected blood. The donor was a 19-year-old man who found out he was HIV positive through a visa application screening process, only after he had donated blood. On December 30, he died after attempting suicide.

The news sent shockwaves across the country. Contracting HIV through blood transfusions is very uncommon in countries like the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom due to rigorous screening practices. However, In India, thousands have been transfused with HIV infected blood, according to reports, and the trend continues.

But what does it all really mean? This TNM explainer is breaking down HIV, what you should know about it and how you can prevent cases like this from recurring.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which if left untreated, can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. HIV attacks and weakens the body’s immune system, making the person much more susceptible to infection or cancer-related infection. Though a cure currently does not exist, certain kinds of medication and treatment are effective in controlling it.

Transmission of HIV primarily takes place through sexual activity or shared needles and syringes. HIV can also be transmitted through body fluids, including blood, semen, seminal fluid, vaginal fluid and breast milk. Misconceptions around HIV are very common. For example, HIV cannot be transmitted through mosquitoes or other blood-sucking insects, saliva, sweat, tears, or through shared personal spaces or objects.

The National AIDS Control Organisation states that “all donated units of blood must be screened for five Transfusion Transmitted Infections (TTI), ie HIV, HBV, HCV, Malaria and Syphilis..”

And the 2017 guidelines for blood donor selection and blood donor referral issued by India’s National Blood Transfusion Council states that, “The donor shall be free from any disease transmissible by blood transfusion, as far as can be determined by history and examination.” Yet, despite the protocol in place, cases of HIV infected blood transfusions continue.

Protecting yourself completely is challenging, but there are some steps you can take. Ask whether standard screening procedures are being followed at your blood bank. And if you suspect that the needle being used is neither new nor sterile, ask them to change it before agreeing to move forward.