The immune system of the human body is pretty much the only reason why we survive while encountering bacteria and virus in the surrounding environment on a daily basis. Our immune system fights with foreign materials entering the body and keeps us healthy. HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) attacks the human immune system and renders it weak. This makes our bodies susceptible to every other infection and makes us sick. Let us see everything you need to know about HIV infection, diagnosis, tests and cure.
Human immunodeficiency virus usually targets certain white blood cells whose job is to fight infections. This virus renders human immune system weak and is responsible for AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) which is considered to be the final stage of HIV infection.
Source of infection
HIV infection is possible only through the exchange of body fluids from an infected person. The most common body fluids responsible for the transmission of HIV are blood, semen, breast milk, and vaginal fluids. Infection is also possible from having unprotected intercourse with the infected person or sharing needles used for blood transfusions, sharing needles while taking drugs and needles shared in piercings and body tattoos.
Infants have a high chance of acquiring HIV infection from the HIV infected mother. The chances of getting an infection are high even during pregnancy, the birth of the child or during breastfeeding. However, a recent breakthrough in medicines is helping the baby to prevent getting infected by giving medicines to the pregnant mother and also to the newborn child.
HIV tests/ diagnosis
If you are wondering of possible HIV infection, get an HIV blood test done to know for sure. Other than blood, urine and saliva can also be used to check for traces of HIV infection in the body. Detecting HIV in the body right after the infection is very hard. It takes as early as 2 weeks or a minimum of 8 weeks for the blood cells to create antibodies o for the virus to grow. A negative result need not be negative for at least 6 months. HIV test can yield positive results even after 6 months once the infection enters the body.
Most of the clinics are willing to do HIV tests anonymously for the sake of the patient and every person is required to get an HIV test done once in their lifetime. Pregnant women are mandatory to take HIV tests and every hospital checks for HIV infection during the routine initial blood tests.
Antigen/antibody tests are the best tests to identify infection in early stages like 2-8 weeks. The tests can show positive results for infected persons from the 18th day (18-45 days). This test identifies the antibodies produced by the blood or finds the antigens of the virus to check for signs of infection. Another test to check the infection is the antibody test which solely looks for antibodies in the blood. HIV antibodies can be found in saliva and blood. So mouth swabs or blood samples are taken in a clinic for HIV check. It is an effective test from 23-90 days after infection and results are obtained within 30mins.
There are some home tests like OraQuick HIV test and Home Access HIV test which may be accurate or inaccurate. It is better to go to a practitioner or clinic to check the HIV test results. A certain test called NAT (nucleic acid test) is done for people to check for the presence of the virus itself.
It is an expensive test and cannot be categorized in screening tests. It is done for patients that have the risk factor or early HIV symptoms.
People infected with HIV appear healthy and do not show any major symptoms for years. The symptoms in the initial weeks are mostly flu-like and patients show conditions related to headache, fever, sore throat, etc. These symptoms usually go away for normal flu last for months and condition gets worse for patients. Patients experience weight loss, continuous fever and diarrhea, tiredness, fatigue and lack of sleep.
HIV infection is incurable and there are no drugs that can kill the virus. However, the medical field has come up with antiretroviral therapy as a treatment procedure which allows the patients to live with HIV infection for many years. The downside of not getting treatment for HIV will result in the condition called AIDS where the body’s immune system is totally broken down and the patient is subjected to various infections. The average life span for a patient with AIDS is 3 years while HIV patients can live long enough like normal people with treatment.
ART is basically a combination of HIV medications used every day to lengthen the life of an HIV patient. The antiretroviral treatment (ART) helps the patient from stopping the progression of HIV infection to AIDS. The ART treatment is known to lower the virus load aka the spread of the virus in the blood. Treatment on a daily basis will render the virus to undetectable amounts in the body. Thought the virus is still present in the body, it cannot be transmitted to sexual partners.
The primary care is to check for HIV infection for self and sexual partners too. Learn the status of HIV infection by getting tested. Using condoms is also an effective way to stop spreading or contracting the infection. Limit the sexual partners and random strangers and having an exclusive sexual partner is a sure way to prevent HIV infection. Take medications or treatment if you already have HIV infection to stop its development.
Since other ways to encounter HIV infection is through shared needles, always ask for a fresh needle in a doctor’s clinic or tattoo place before getting the work done. People that have a high chance of getting HIV infection due to various reasons can opt for pre-exposure prophylaxis pill which can be taken on a daily basis. Post-exposure prophylaxis medication is probably effective to stop the infection if you are suspected to have an HIV exposure.