Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

What is HIV?

HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection is a viral infection which focuses its attacks on the immune system, the body’s main defense system from various infections. What the virus does is it attacks the immune system to damage or weaken it so its main functions cannot be performed.

Should a person acquire HIV infection, there is a huge possibility that the person would acquire AIDS-defining clinical conditions, which is one or more severe forms of infections and illnesses associated with AIDS. AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome has also another term, which is mostly used nowadays, called Advanced HIV Disease. Those who have acquired HIV and were able to detect it early enough for treatment to work effectively, in most cases, didn’t progress to AIDS-defining clinical condition.

Origin and Causes of HIV

The human immunodeficiency virus is somewhat a similar form of a virus that has been infecting African chimpanzees, which is called Simian Immunodeficiency Virus or SIV. SIV is a species of retrovirus that has been transferred to humans due to a certain time when people are eating chimpanzees that have previously been infected with the virus. The virus then converted into a virus that is now affecting humans known today as HIV, and this took place sometime in the early 20th century.

During the early stages of the development of HIV, it has been spreading all over the African continent for decades. In the course of time, it has reached other neighboring countries as well until it has reached the major parts of the world. In 1959, HIV has been first observed in a blood sample from a human.

Here are some instances when HIV infection is transmitted from one person to another:

  • Direct skin contact with an infected person’s blood.
  • Having vaginal sex with an infected person and without any form of protection.
  • Labor and delivery of an infant
  • Nursing children or breastfeeding
  • Using syringes that have been used by an HIV positive person.

HIV Symptoms and Diagnosis

Here are some of the initial symptoms you’ll be experiencing when you are infected with HIV:

  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Rashes
  • Sore throat
  • Headache

If you noticed, these symptoms are pretty much general symptoms that you’ll also experience from any other illnesses. Not all experience these initial symptoms right away. There are even some who experience the symptoms years after the initial infection. In diagnosing, the easiest, fastest and most trustworthy way is by having an HIV test.  It’s so difficult to just rely on initial symptoms because it’s so general and it also just comes and go. For a few days your experiencing the symptoms then after that the symptoms disappear. The virus isn’t detectable for 2 weeks or a month from the initial infection. The worse thing is that you may be spreading the virus even when it’s still undetectable. It is crucial to regularly get tested, especially when you have unprotected sex. Almost all conducted HIV tests recognize the antibodies, which are proteins inside the body that responds to HIV intrusion, and not the virus. The reason why HIV infection is undetectable for 2-4 weeks is that our body takes about 2-4 weeks to generate antibodies against HIV infection.

However, there are some testing centers that use testing methods that can recognize HIV infections that are recent and acute infections. Which is why it is so important that you inform the authorized personnel if you think you’ve been infected just recently. These kinds of tests detect the viral protein p24 antigen or HIV RNA. So, before going to an HIV testing center, make sure to call them and inquire first about their testing methods.

It is crucial that you know that status of your health through the result of your test right after getting tested. If you tested positive of HIV infection, you must consult with a doctor as soon as possible and begin therapy. The higher risk when it comes to HIV infection is during the early stages of infection. Because of this, you have to be cautious and follow steps to avoid transmission of infection. If the test appears to be negative, then make sure that you take preventive measures, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis to help keep you away from infection.

How Can HIV Be Treated?

HIV infection, especially during its early stages, can be treated with various medications. One of these is through antiretroviral therapy or ART. It uses a combination of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV infection, and it works by preventing the virus from accessing a type of white blood cells. Another type of therapy used in HIV treatment is HAART, which stands for highly active antiretroviral therapy. This treatment can inhibit the increase and expansion of the virus and new infections. It can also decrease the severity of the infection and can make the immune system function a bit more stable. However, it does not get rid of HIV. For example, when a person has advanced HIV and is taking HAART, it can decrease its weight, prolonging the life of an infected person. Neither does ART cure the HIV infection but can allow the immune system to perform its main function, fighting off other infections. A lot of people’s lives have been saved by these treatments.

HIV Prevention

There are various prevention methods you can take to keep yourself from away from HIV infection. One of these methods is through sex education and practicing protected sex. Another method you can take to prevent HIV infection is by using the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug. This drug provides a highly effective safeguard from HIV infection, especially when it’s taken regularly or every day. Protection can also be heightened by using condoms when having sexual intercourse. When taking PrEP, you must occasional visits to your doctor for follow up checkup and to refill your drugs. The downside about taking PrEP is it affects the kidneys.

Other kinds of stuff need to be considered to decrease the chances of acquiring HIV. An example would be asking your partner if he/she is positive from HIV. One of the ways you can effectively keep yourself away from this infection is by being loyal and only having sexual intercourses with your partner. The only sure way to avoid acquiring infection from HIV is by abstaining from sex completely.

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