HIV or human immunodeficiency virus is a retrovirus virus that is transmitted through genital fluids and blood. The HIV virus destroys cells that found in the immune system called the T cells or CD4 cells. These cells are responsible for fighting against infections. As a result, the body gets unable to fight off infections and other illnesses.
In the advanced stage, HIV develops into AIDS which stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. This is the stage when the immune system is too damaged and the body is no longer capable of fighting against infections and illnesses. At this stage, the CD4 count is extremely low and any chances of recovery from the disease are significantly low. To track the situation with your immune system doctors, use CD4 count (normal ratio is 500-1500 in HIV-negative).
However, with treatment, you can live a long life because it reduces the damage caused by the HIV virus by making the virus inactive. But without treatment, a person’s lifespan is greatly reduced.
Presently, no cure exists for HIV, but there have been radical advances in the development of more effective HIV medication. But the most commonly used medication used for treating HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). This medication when taken every day can keep you healthy, reduce your chances of infecting other people with the virus and you can live a long healthy life.
HIV is passed from one person to another through vaginal fluids, semen, and blood. The HIV virus can also get into the body through sores or cuts in your mouth or skin. Other ways you can get HIV is by:
- Having unprotected anal or vaginal sex (75%), unprotected oral sex (3-7%)
- Sharing needles with a person who has HIV
- Getting blood via transfusion from a person who has HIV
- Perinatal (vertical) route.
The most common way of getting the HIV virus is through unprotected sex. However, using condoms can greatly reduce your chances of getting HIV.
A mother with HIV can also pass the virus to her child through breast milk. But with medication, an infected mother can significantly lower the chances of infecting her child with HIV.
A day or two after getting infected, the HIV virus is detectable in the regional lymphatic tissue. Within 6 days,it can be found in the regional lymph nodes.
After 2 weeks, it is possible to detect the virus in the nervous system and pretty much in the entire body.
Once the virus replicates itself in the body, you may start to see symptoms in about 6 weeks.
Symptoms may include:
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Night sweats
- Aches and pains in the joints and muscles
- Oral candida
- Oral leukoplakia
- Herpes zoster
- Herpes simplex recurrent
- Tinea infections.
These symptoms can last up to 6 weeks or less. However, these symptoms are not specific to HIV. There are other virus infections that have similar symptoms such as influenza. The only way to eliminate HIV as the cause is by going for a test.
The only way you can know that you have the HIV virus is by getting tested. Although you may experience symptoms, there is no way of knowing that you have HIV unless you get tested. In fact, some people who have HIV go for years without experiencing any symptoms. So if you have had unprotected sex and you think that maybe you could be a risk, go get tested even if you are not experiencing any symptoms.
An HIV diagnosis can be done using:
- Antibody screening test
This test is also referred to as the ELISA test and it is used to check for a specific HIV-Ab in the body.
Usually, your doctor will take a small sample of your blood for testing. Some ELISA tests check fluids or urine, but a blood test provides more accurate results. It is possible to get a negative result even when you are actually positive when you take a fluid or urine test. This is because the antibodies in fluids are few.
- Antibody/Antigen combination test
The antibody/antigen combination test can detect the HIV virus 20 days after infection. With the antibody screening test, you would have to wait about 8 weeks to get tested if you want to get accurate results.
This test checks for an HIV antigen called core p24 antigen, which is a protein that is found in the virus. This protein shows up 3 weeks after you become infected. The test also checks for the HIV antibodies much like the antibody screening test.
- RNA Test
The RNA test checks for the HIV virus and it can be able to detect the virus 10 days after exposure. It is quite expensive and therefore not many physicians use it. But your doctor may choose to use it if you are already showing symptoms that are specific to HIV.
- Home Test Kits
You can get a home test kit and test yourself at the privacy of your home. To get a test sample, you can choose to get a small amount of blood by pricking your finger or swab your lower or upper gams for a sample. It should take about 20 minutes to get the results once you test the vial. This test is quite accurate. But you can choose to get a different kind of test just to be sure.
To protect yourself from getting infected with HIV, you can use protection or practice abstinence. Being faithful to one partner can also reduce your risk of getting HIV. However, you can get HIV with only one partner if the partner is unfaithful and having unprotected sex.
Other methods of protection include taking antiretroviral drugs, male circumcision, and vaccination.
There are many posible ways to protect yourself against HIV and still be involved into sexual relationship.
Using condoms is the most effective method of protection against HIV and sexually transmitted infections. It also helps prevent unwanted pregnancies.
- They are very effective if used properly and this means using a condom that fits properly.
- To ensure that you are using a condom in the right way, here are a few basic things you can do:
- Every time you have intercourse, use a new condom.
- Put on a condom before any kind of sexual contact, whether it may be vaginal, oral or anal.
- Avoid using baby oil, vaseline or any other oil-based lubricant as it can cause the condom to break or split.
Preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is the process whereby an uninfected person is given antiretroviral drugs (called Truvada) to avoid getting permanently infected with the HIV virus. It is a preventive method that can greatly lower the risk of the HIV virus from replicating in the body once you have been exposed to it.
For people who are not HIV positive but have a high-risk lifestyle, PreP is usually recommended and other methods of protection such as condoms and circumcision.
If your partner is HIV positive, there are several ways you can help them.
- Listen. If your partner tells you that they are HIV positive, listen to them and offer them your support. Plus, having HIV does not mean that life is over. There are drugs that are effective in treating HIV and can keep your partner healthy as well as keep you safe from getting infected.
- Be informed about HIV. Learn what HIV is, how it’s transmitted, its symptoms, and how it’s treated. Find out how your HIV positive partner can stay healthy and how you can protect yourself from getting infected.
- Be encouraging. When your partner informs you that they are HIV positive, be encouraging. Also, encourage them to seek treatment immediately. When HIV is treated early using antiretroviral therapy, the infected person can protect themselves against infections. They can also live longer and they can greatly reduce their risk of developing AIDS.
- Make sure your partner takes their medication every day. Since the HIV virus attacks the immune system, it becomes hard for the body to fight against infections. So ensure that your partner takes their medication every day and also make sure that they are eating a healthy balanced diet.
- Get support. You and your partner can join a support group for people living with the virus. Talk to other people like friends and family about your situation. Talk about your concerns, feelings, and thoughts about your partner and the disease. If have any questions or concerns, talk to your physician about them. Try to get as much help as you can as this can help you and your partner stay both physically and mentally healthy.
If your HIV positive partner cares about you, they will tell you about their HIV status. They will also encourage you to go for a test.
Once you go for a test and you find that you are HIV negative, talk to your physician about PreP and other methods of prevention. But if the test result comes out positive, get treatment as soon as possible and talk to your doctor on what else you can do to stay healthy.