Here are HIV Basics or HIV 101 you must know about. As we know HIV weakens immune system and there is no cure available for HIV, knowing it better is the only thing that an HIV infected person can do to live a healthier life.
What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is among one of most dangerous known virus for human beings. If HIV is not treated on time, it can lead to disease called AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). There is approximately 36.9 million people in the world currently affected by HIV/AIDS in which 2.6 million are children. In the US, affected number is 1.6 million.
How HIV works?
We should keep in mind that once a person is infected by HIV virus, he/she can’t get rid of HIV completely. It will be in human body for life. HIV/AIDS is not a disease itself but it attacks person’s immune system. This virus destroys CD4 cells or T cells. These cells help human body for fighting diseases and infections. As the infection progresses, number of cells reduces and immune system becomes more susceptible to infections. Making the person more likely to get more other opportunistic diseases and cancer like infections.
History of HIV
A type of Chimpanzees in central Africa is source of HIV infections in Humans. Scientists believe, when humans went for hunting and came into contact with chimpanzees infected with chimpanzee version of the immunodeficiency virus (called simian immunodeficiency virus, or SIV), it was transmitted to humans and mutated into HIV. This happened during late 1800s.
There are three stages in HIV infection.
Stage 1 – Acute HIV infection
Stage 2 – Clinical latency (HIV inactivity or dormancy)
Stage 3 – AIDS
In Stage 1, within 2-4 weeks of infection, people experience flu like illness for few weeks which is a natural body response to infection. People in this stage are often unaware that they have infected by HIV because they may not feel sick at first.
In Stage 2, HIV reproduces at very low levels. This period can last a decade or longer for some, although some may progress through this phase much faster. Person may begin to have symptoms as the virus level increases in their body.
In Stage 3, HIV reached its severe condition and damaged person’s immune system badly. Without any medication, people survive about 3 years during this stage.
How do you get infected by HIV?
Infection of HIV is only possible through certain activities. HIV mainly spread by following ways: –
- Having vaginal or anal sex without condom.
- Using HIV contaminated needles, syringes, rinse water or other equipment’s.
- Mother to child via breastfeeding, pregnancy or birth.
- Oral Sex (rare cases)
- HIV infected blood transfusions and tissue/organ transplants.
- Eating food which is Pre chewed by HIV infected person.
- Any contact of HIV contaminated blood or body fluids with your blood stream.
- Deep Kissing with the person having HIV-if he/she have bleeding gums and sores, it can infect your blood stream.
You cannot get infected HIV by air, water, Mosquitos, insects, Saliva, shaking hands, food, sharing toilets, hugging, casual kissing. Basically all those activities which does not exchange body-fluids.
If you are at high risk of infection and want to prevent it, then you should start taking Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) medication daily to lower your chances of getting infected.
Every stage of HIV has different set of symptoms.
In stage 1, people experience flu like illness for 2-4 weeks. It is important to remember that some people may not feel sick. In some cases, HIV symptoms don’t appear for years or even a decade after infection.
Initial symptoms may include: –
- Aching muscles
- Sore throat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Night sweats
- Mouth ulcers
These symptoms can last from a few days to several weeks. During this period, HIV infection may not show up on an HIV test but human body is highly infectious and it can spread virus to other people.
In stage 2, HIV reproduces on very low level in your body. However, generally it will create no symptoms of infection during this stage, HIV attacks immune system during this stage and slowly killing the CD4 cells or T cells. If you start medication on this stage, it will prolong to several decades.
In stage 3, patient progressed to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and immune system is effectively weekend. Patient may suffer from below symptoms: –
- Rapid weight loss
- night sweats and recurring fever
- Prolonged extreme tiredness
- Swelling of lymph glands in the neck, armpits or groin.
- Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
- Purple, red, pink or brownish blotches on or under the skin or inside the eyelids, mouth or nose.
- Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders.
- Diarrhea, nausea or vomiting for more than a week.
- Shortness of breath and cough
- Chronic fatigue
- Distorted or blurred vision
- other symptoms of infection or disease
These are just symptoms and it can also be related to other diseases. Confirmation of HIV infection is only possible through testing.
When is the right time of testing?
Now is the best time take a HIV test. There are many ways you may get infected today. People between the ages of 13-29, gays, bisexuals, drug addicts, people living in disadvantaged neighborhoods are at high risk today. If you share needles or having unprotected sex, then you should get tested for HIV at least once in a year.
There are three broad types of tests available: antibody tests, combination or fourth-generation tests, and nucleic acid tests (NAT). HIV tests can be performed on blood, urine or oral fluid.
Many medical clinics, hospitals, substance abuse treatment programs, Title X Family Planning Clinics, community health centres and even some pharmacies, AIDS services organizations, and even mobile testing vans are testing HIV infection in United States.
If you suspect you have infection in early stages, you can visit STDcheck for HIV RNA Test available for Early detection of HIV. Its RNA-based test detects the virus itself in your blood unlike standard HIV test which finds antibodies to the virus in your blood. You can get tested 9 to 11 days after infection. For people want to have a standard HIV test, this facility has Its own HIV ANTIBODY TEST.
If you tested HIV positive, it does not mean you have AIDS. You must start treatment immediately after infection detection.
It is very important to remember, if you don’t start treatment after detection, you will get AIDS for sure.
Important Note: You must consult a doctor before you start a treatment. In government run hospitals, treatment is free. The information available here is just for reference purpose.
If you know, you are infected by HIV virus very recently during a single event, you should start taking PEP. PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis. You must start PEP medication within 3 days of exposure, before the virus has time to reproduce itself in your body. If you start it after 3 days of infection, then it has little or no effect in preventing HIV infection.
For those patients who frequently exposed to HIV virus. First of all, you should complete all tests ordered by your doctor. These tests include: –
- Complete blood count
- tuberculosis, or toxoplasmosis
- Tests for other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Tests for other infections like hepatitis
- Blood chemistry profile (including liver and kidney function tests)
- An HLA-B*5701 test: to see how your responding for a specific kind of medicine and should you avoid it.
- Coreceptor tropism assay: to see if your body has any kind of resistance of medicine and if a specific medicine is appropriate for you or not.
HIV disease is treated using a combination of medicines called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is not a cure of HIV but it reduces the risk of transmission and gives you a healthy and longer life. ART reduces the amount of HIV in your body system by preventing multiplying itself. It helps to make your immune system healthy enough to fight diseases and infections. Please remember, ART is a lifelong treatment. It is important to take it consistently and correctly to stay healthy for many years.
There are several regimen or combination of ART. It is decided on many factors like your other diseases, side effects, interaction between HIV medicines, drug resisting testing, cost etc.