HIV stands for “Human Immunodeficiency Virus.” As the term suggests, it is a virus that attacks a person’s immune system, particularly the CD4 cells. CD4 cells provide human body protection from various illnesses. HIV is a deadly virus because unlike other viruses, the person’s immune system cannot get rid of HIV. There is currently no cure or vaccination for it.
The prevalence of HIV
Any individual regardless of sexual orientation, gender, and race can be affected by HIV. It can be transmitted from one individual to another through direct contact with infected vaginal fluid, semen, or blood. Thus, if a person is sexually active and usually has unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person, the likelihood of contracting the virus is substantially increased.
There are approximately 1,200,000 Americans affected by that based on the statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and this figure is increasing among men. In the US, roughly 39,513 HIV diagnoses were made in 2015 and about 81% of this figure was from male teenagers and adults ages 13 and above.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
There are no exact signs and symptoms of HIV. They differ depending on the individual. Nonetheless, a general pattern of symptoms is usually observed in men who have HIV:
- Acute infection
- Asymptomatic phase
- Advanced infection
Acute HIV Infection
Upon contracting the virus, flu-like symptoms are reported to be experienced within 2-4 weeks by roughly 80% of those who have HIV. These flu-like symptoms are referred to as “acute HIV infection,” which is the first phase of the infection and would last until enough antibodies have been produced by the body to try to fight off the virus. The following are the most prevalent signs and symptoms of acute HIV infection:
- Intense headaches
- A sore throat
- Rashes all over the body
On the other hand, the less common signs and symptoms are the following:
- Sweating at night
- Joint pains
- Aching muscles
- Genital ulcers
- Mouth ulcers
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fatigue or a feeling of weakness or tiredness
Once these symptoms set in, they usually last for up to 2 weeks maximum.
After the symptoms of the acute infection have subsided, it will be followed by a prolonged period of time wherein no symptoms may be observed. This asymptomatic phase may last for months up to years.
You will not look or feel sick, but the virus remains active and highly contagious and transmittable to others. During this phase, the virus will multiply and start breaking down your immune system. This is why it is extremely important to be tested for it even if you feel like you’re healthy and completely fine.
After the asymptomatic phase which could last up to years, your immune system may eventually be weakened and broken down by the virus. If this happens, HIV will complicate into AIDS, which stands for “acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.” AIDS is the last phase of the infection. Once you have AIDS, your immune system is extremely damaged by then, greatly increasing your vulnerability to other opportunistic infections.
These are infections that the human body would normally fight off on its own but can be fatal for those affected by HIV. Fungal infections, flu, and colds may be observed often. Furthermore, you might observe the following signs and symptoms of AIDS:
- Prolonged inflammation/swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, groin, and armpit areas
- Lesions, sores, or rashes under the skin, on the genitals, or on the nose and mouth area
- Sweating at night
- Chronic fever
- Shortness of breath
- A cough
- Rapid loss of weight
- Chronic fatigue
- Stubborn diarrhea
Diagnosis of HIV
If you are sexually active, have ever had unprotected sex, or have ever shared needles, it might be a good idea to have yourself tested for HIV especially if you are exhibiting any of the signs and symptoms discussed above. The CDC recommends that an HIV test is taken annually by those who have had sexual intercourse with a person infected with HIV, those who have multiple partners, those who are sexually active, and those who use intravenous drugs.
Testing for HIV is done through a quick and easy blood test. HIV tests are offered in numerous substance abuse programs, community or district health centers, and health clinics. There is also a do-it-yourself (DIY) option, i.e., an HIV home testing kit which can be purchased online. It will show results in just 20-40 minutes. You may feel a little afraid or anxious about HIV testing, but keep in mind that timely diagnosis is crucial.
Remember that HIV cannot be cured as of yet and there is no vaccine against it. Once you have it, you will always have it unless a cure is developed in the future. However, if you get diagnosed early, you’d also be able to start the treatment early. While this treatment will not cure it, it will help by slowing the progress of HIV and considerably boost your quality of life.
It has been shown by a study conducted in 2013 that if individuals with HIV begin treatment prior to their immune systems being heavily damaged by the virus, they might still have a near-normal life expectancy. Furthermore, the National Institutes of Health conducted a study which showed that those with HIV who began treatment early decreased their risk of transmitting the infection to their partners.
How do I prevent HIV?
It has been estimated by the CDC that one out of every eight people affected by HIV in the US aren’t even aware that they have it. A number of individuals affected by HIV have gone up in the last couple of years, while the annual count of new HIV cases has stayed rather stable. The best way to decrease your risk of contracting HIV is by taking a couple of measures.
- Limit yourself to only one sexual partner ss much as possible.
If this isn’t possible, then always use a condom during sexual intercourse, whether vaginal or anal. Condoms are a high efficacy in preventing HIV transmission when they are used correctly.
- Prevent contamination.
Always have the assumption that others’ blood is infected, so always wear latex gloves and other protective gear when you will be in contact with blood.
- Stay away from IV drugs.
If this isn’t possible, throw away immediately any needle you have used. Never use any needle that has already been used by others.
- Get regularly tested for HIV, at least once a year.
This is the most accurate way of knowing if you have contracted the virus. If you are ever tested positive for it, you’d be able to start the treatment right away, decrease the risk of transmitting the virus to others, and delay the progress of the infection substantially.