Did you know that breast milk is one of the bodily fluids that can transmit HIV? That’s right. HIV or human immunodeficiency virus can be transferred from any bodily fluid such as blood (including menstrual blood), semen or precum, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. The saddest effect of this is HIV breast milk infects infants with the deadly virus.
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This devastating news came after several children were reported infected. HIV is a relatively new virus. We still learn new things about it all the time. At first, it was thought to be rare cancer that was common in homosexuals. In a way, this was not too far out from the truth, but instead of disease, this is a virus that destroys the immune system. Before long we found out that bodily fluids passed it but still didn’t understand how or which bodily fluids were the culprit.
Today research has shown us that saliva/spit, tears, sweat, urine/pee, and feces/poop do not contain traces of the virus. Even if these fluids are exchanged between an infected person and a non-infected person the virus will not be passed between them. However, it took us forever to understand why this is.
HIV breast milk, like semen, and vaginal secretions come into contact with blood. Different acts of sex result in different risk percentages based on exposure to these fluids. For instance, oral sex does not have a high rate of risk involved because semen is ingested into the digestive tract, which does not come in to contact with blood. However, if the oral sex giver has a cut in his/her mouth and semen/precum is introduced to the cut then the virus may be transmitted. Similarly, when anal intercourse occurs, there is a significant chance that small tears in the skin tissue will happen. Once semen is ejaculated, it will encounter these small tears and transmit the virus via the blood. Vaginal intercourse works the same way with one notable difference. .
Breastfeeding works somewhat differently but isn’t usually responsible for transmitting the virus in high-income countries. Milk is produced from glands which use the protein in blood to produce breast milk. This allows the virus to be built right into an infant’s only means of surviving. Once their body breaks down the liquid for digestion, the infected proteins are then free to infect the infant. Most 1st and 2nd world countries have the medicine to prevent this now. Even if the mother is infected, it does not mean she can’t breastfeed her baby. However, in low-income countries where women can not afford medical treatment, this is a problem. What is a woman to do if she can’t provide treatment? Does she let her baby starve? It’s certainly a tough decision to make.
As we learn more about this disease, we become more strongly armed against it. While getting diagnosed with HIV used to be a death sentence, it’s no longer so severe. There are plenty of new medicines and treatments being invented all the time. One day soon, we’re sure we’ll be able to cure this terrible disease.