HIV is one of the most prevalent viruses in the modern-day world. The AIDS syndrome that goes along with HIV is just as bad. Whole countries have had and are still having epidemics with the two conditions. Part of the problem with AIDS/HIV is that people do not truly understand the two conditions and while this has improved in recent years, it is still a mystery to some degree. Even to scientists. Let’s help you understand HIV/AIDS.
What Is HIV and What Does It Stand For?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and while HIV and AIDS are related, they are not the same thing. The virus is classified under a group known as retroviruses.
By attacking the immune system HIV can seriously compromise the human body’s ability to protect itself from all sorts of issues and conditions. From the common cold to serious infections, a patient is unable to fight off anything.
How Widespread Is HIV?
The virus known as HIV has affected every part of the world. Countries without a major healthcare system are often thought to be the only ones that are majorly effective. People from all walks of life from all countries have the potential to be affected by HIV.
It is very difficult to come up with an exact figure as to how many people around the world have HIV. There have been estimates made as to how many people are infected. In 2015, it was believed that there were just under 37 million people affected by HIV (according to the US Government). Also, according to the US Government, just over 2 million people were affected that year alone.
So What Is AIDS?
We already mentioned that Human Immunodeficiency Virus works by attacking the immune system. When it attacks the immune system and you develop infections and/or cancer due to the lack of immune system you adopt Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
Unlike HIV, AIDS cannot be caught or transmitted to other people. It is simply a term for those who have HIV and potentially life-threatening conditions.
Just because AIDS is life-threatening does not mean that you are going to die. The various diseases that make up a diagnosis of AIDS vary and can potentially be treated.
Diagnosing HIV and Symptoms
Many people ask what they symptoms of HIV are. The truth is that HIV can only be diagnosed one way, through testing. Testing takes several forms.
HIV is tested through bodily fluids which include blood and saliva. When screening these bodily fluids, the laboratory or medical professional is looking for the presence of antibodies that are produced by the body once you have become infected by HIV.
More modern testing for HIV includes rapid tests that can be administered at a doctor’s office and results are available at the doctor’s office. Rapid testing is reliable but it may not be as good at detecting HIV early on. These tests also have a higher chance of coming up false positive, meaning the test will show up as positive but you are not infected with HIV but the test shows you are.
At home testing is available but it is important that you look for a stamp of FDA approval on the test. Some scammers may try to pass off fake tests or unapproved tests in order to make money. Steps should be followed to the letter in order to make sure your test results are as accurate as possible.
While we said above that the only way to know for sure that you have HIV is through testing, some people do notice symptoms. Here are some symptoms that may indicate you have HIV.
Short flu like symptoms are suffered by many people during the initial onset of HIV. That includes fever, soreness, headache, pains, and even rashes.
Other symptoms of HIV include those that are suffered from the infections that come along with a lowered immune system. There are far too many symptoms to possibly be listed but the most common that you should look out for include: night sweats, sudden weight loss, and persistent health problems. All of these can be signs of major health problems.
Before being tested for HIV, you will often have a chance to speak with a doctor or nurse. This is your chance to ask them any questions that aren’t answered in this article and that you might have about the testing. You might feel awkward at first when discussing topics of HIV and sexual activity. Medical professionals have seen everything and discussed everything. There is no need to feel concerned or awkward.
If you can’t ask these questions of these people, who can you ask them of?
How Are You Exposed to HIV?
Exposure to HIV happens through exposure to bodily fluids from someone who has HIV. Not all bodily fluids can carry HIV but a number of them can.
- Breast Milk
- Rectal Fluids
- Vaginal Secretions and Fluids
In order for infection to happen, one of these fluids needs to come into contact with mucous membrane (eyes, nose, vagina, penis, anal, etc) or through an open wound (or other damage to tissue). Worldwide, the most common way that HIV is spread is through sexual action of all kinds. It used to be common belief that HIV was only spread through homosexual sex. This is not true. HIV is spread through sex with both genders.
The second most common way that HIV is spread is through exposure to injection equipment such as needles. Some of it is through sharing needles while other times it is through accidental exposure. The drug epidemic around the world has left needles in many public places, making accidental exposure an even higher probability than in the past.
Who Should Be Tested For HIV?
It is recommended by doctors that you have an HIV test performed at least once in your life to determine whether or not you have the virus. The test only takes a little bit of time and can help to ensure your wellbeing. HIV testing as part of your medical screening should happen at least once before you are 64 but after you have turned 13.
There are certain populations that are more at risk for HIV than others. Those people are recommended to get tested regularly to ensure that they are HIV free. At risk populations include, but are not limited to:
- Those who have anonymous sex
- Those who have multiple sex partners
- Those who have unprotected sex
- Intravenous drug users
- Those who trade drugs for sex
- Those with any other STIs/STDs
People who have had exposure to narcotics paraphernalia such as shared needles, used needles, or other items, should be tested. Medical professionals, first responders, and others who have had accidental needle exposure should also be tested. Testing should occur as soon as possible.
The sooner that test results come back, the more likely that something can be done to remedy the situation.
Can HIV Be Cured?
In almost all cases HIV cannot be cured with modern medicine. Many attempts have been made to cure HIV and while tests have come up negative temporarily, HIV possesses an uncanny ability to hide itself. HIV, like cancer, is able to manipulate the cells that it lives in to revert to a pre-HIV state, hiding all signs of the virus. This makes it incredibly hard to fight HIV.
Multiple medications have been created to help reduce the impact of HIV on your life. These medications can help those with HIV live near normal lives. However, treatment must be continued regularly in order for it to be effective. Should a patient discontinue their treatment, chances are that their HIV symptoms shall get more severe.
With that being said, under certain conditions the chance of contracting HIV can be reduced significantly. If a patient is treated within 3 days of potential exposure with post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP treatment is a 28-day process and is not guaranteed, but it will significantly reduce your chances of contracting HIV. Medication used is HIV treatment medication.
Mother-to-baby transmission of HIV is also possible. Using the same HIV medication that is used for PEP, you can reduce your chances of a child contracting HIV when newly born. The medication will be given to the child for 4 or more weeks.
How Can You Prevent HIV?
Prevention of HIV sounds simple but it requires one to be vigilant. Practicing safe sex is an important aspect to ensuring that you do not receive the virus. Wearing a condom is important during any form of sexual intercourse to prevent the spread of the virus. Regular testing for those who are sexually active is critical, as is sharing your STD/STI status with your partners. It may feel like a weird question to ask but make sure that you ask your partners if they are HIV positive or not.
Proper handling of any narcotics paraphernalia as well as blood and other bodily fluids will also help to reduce the chances of contracting HIV. This means safe disposal of syringes, not sharing syringes, as well as avoiding bodily fluids. Bodily fluids that are spilled or otherwise become an exposure risk, should be cleaned properly.
Cleaning of bodily fluids should include a proper chemical (usually bleach) cleaning of the area that was exposed to the bodily fluid. Those who are performing the cleaning should wear gloves and other protective measures. You should never attempt to clean up fluids if it is unsafe or you are unsure of the proper procedures.
As we have already mentioned, it is critical to seek medical attention immediately if you believe you have been exposed to bodily fluids. Treatment must start within 3 days in order for it to have a chance of being effective.
Is HIV Lethal? What Is The Life Expectancy of Someone With HIV?
We have already briefly touched on the topic of life expectancy in another section but it is such a commonly asked question that we have to address it separately. It is also important that patients with HIV know that they have the chance to have a relatively normal life.
As long as treatment is started as soon as possible, life expectancy is similar to that of someone who is HIV negative. In fact, as new medications are being developed, it is becoming ever more likely that those who have HIV will live a normal life.
It is important to note that in order to remain symptom free, you must continue the HIV treatment.
Those who do not have treatment started will suffer from a reduced lifespan. This comes from the damage that a reduced immune system that the body has. Illnesses and even potentially cancer will hit and you will have the choice of treatment or worsening condition.
How To Support Those With HIV?
Having the support of friends and family is important for those who suffer from human immunodeficiency disorder. It starts by not judging those who have HIV. Listening to them and hearing them will help all by itself.
While you might be tempted to push to do more to help someone who has HIV it is important that you let them approach you for more than listening. Support starts with letting them know that you are there to provide a helping hand, constant ear, and other forms of support.
Other forms of support include providing aid and financing to those who are fighting to get rid of HIV once and for all. Research depends on the many people who join the fight as researchers and sponsors. There are many groups working on the fight to cure HIV. UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, the International AIDS Society, and the Kaiser Family Foundation are all examples of organizations that the United States says are dedicated to fighting the terrible virus.
HIV virus, and the accompanying AIDS syndrome, are two of the world’s worst conditions that we have been unable to cure. As of right now, curing these conditions appears to be a tall order. While we may hope for a cure soon, it is critical to be safe and cautious until a cure is discovered. HIV is serious.