Vertical vs horizontal HIV transmission
HIV transmission is a big health concern. In adults, the main routes of transmission can be horizontal whilst in kids, it is mostly vertical. You might be asking, so what does that even mean, and what is the difference between the two? Here’s a breakdown.
Vertical transmission of HIV means passing the virus from mother to child. This can happen during pregnancy, while the baby is in the placenta in the mother’s womb, or through direct contact during and after the birth of the baby.
Because of the advancement that the world has made with regards to HIV/AIDS, it is very possible for a woman living with HIV not to pass on the virus to her unborn child. This can be prevented through what’s called Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) programmes. These programmes enable women living with HIV to stay healthy and to continue taking their medication so their unborn babies don’t get infected during birth.
Horizontal transmission of HIV is also known as secondary transmission because the spread of the virus mainly happens during sex or the sharing of a contaminated object like a needle, for instance. This simply means that the virus can be transmitted through vaginal fluid, semen, or the blood of someone who is already living with HIV. Most of the time, people might think that dating someone who is living with HIV is dangerous because you might get infected through sexual intimacy. However, your risk when sleeping with a partner who has HIV is totally dependent on whether your partner living with HIV takes their medication (ARVs) on a daily basis or not and if you use a condom during sex. By doing that, your chances of being infected remain quite low.
Something important to note is that if someone takes their medication regularly, they could get to the point where they are undetectable and therefore have a very low chance of spreading the virus. Read here to find out what it means to be undetectable. Remember though, being undetectable doesn’t mean you should stop taking treatment or using condoms, because they can still prevent other STIs or unplanned pregnancy.
So that’s the difference between vertical and horizontal HIV transmission. It’s a lot less complicated than it sounds, which is why it’s so important to do your research on safe sex and HIV. You’ll find that something you thought was overwhelming, actually isn’t. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or speak to your healthcare provider - you are well within your rights to do so.
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