Despite the worldwide prevalence, HIV is still a source of various misconceptions. When it comes to HIV, most of us know it’s a lifelong condition that doesn’t have a cure, but there is much more to it. In this post, we focus on HIV, causes, symptoms, screening tests, and other info you need to know.
What is HIV?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, meaning it is a virus that affects the immune system. The virus affects the body’s ability to defend against bacteria, other viruses, infections, and other enemies. In a nutshell, HIV attacks CD4 T cells which are supposed to defend your body. After the virus has taken over these cells, it converts them into a virus factory that makes them multiply and produce numerous copies. Infected cells are unable to do their job properly and they die and in time the immune system weakens significantly.
While HIV is usually transmitted through sexual contact, one can also get it through blood, sharing needles or reusing infected needles, but pregnant women may spread it to their children too. A person cannot get HIV through ordinary contact with an infected individual such as kissing, hugging, shaking hands, dancing, through insect bites, air, water, etc.
Although the infection can be asymptomatic at the beginning, some symptoms may occur as it progresses. Although signs and symptoms of HIV vary, the most common ones are diarrhea, nausea, cramps, fever, fatigue, weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, headache, muscle and joint pain, rash, and sore throat.
HIV vs. AIDS
It’s not uncommon for people to assume that HIV and AIDS are two names for the same thing, but that’s not correct. You see, HIV is a virus that gradually leads to deterioration of the immune system. On the other hand, AIDS is a condition. Not every HIV patient develops AIDS which is classified as stage 3 HIV. AIDS occurs when HIV makes a significant damage to the immune system or when CD4 T count falls below 200 and in cases when a patient has an AIDS-related complication.
How is HIV detected?
Sexually active adults should get an HIV screening at least once a year. This is particularly important for people with many sexual partners. Your doctor will recommend the most suitable test by following the national guidelines. The most common HIV diagnostic test is P24 which tests HIV antigen and antibodies. During the first few weeks of the infection, P24 in blood is high because the virus replicates itself. Your doctor needs a blood sample to perform this test. While P24 is the most frequently used, it is not the only HIV screening tests. Other tests include nucleic acid tests (NATs) and antibody tests.
Below, you can take a look at important statistics regarding the worldwide prevalence of HIV:
- 36.7 million people worldwide had HIV in 2016
- 2.1 million children around the globe have HIV
- 60% people know they are infected, but 40% don’t
- 20.9 million people living with HIV were accessing antiretroviral therapy (ART) as of July 2017
- 1.1 million people in the US have HIV
- 1 in 7 infected Americans aren’t aware of their condition
- 5.1 million people in Asia and Pacific region have HIV
- 19.4 million people in East and Southern Africa have HIV
- 6.1 million people in Western and Central Africa have HIV
- 230,000 people in the Middle East and North Africa have HIV
Prevention and management of HIV
Prevention of HIV requires safe sex practices, avoidance of alcohol and drugs, and regular screening. While HIV doesn’t have a cure, one can manage it with a proactive approach. This means that you need to follow doctor’s orders and take prescribed medications such as ART. Management of HIV also requires a healthy diet, avoiding foods that are at a high risk of contamination. Bear in mind that there are different classes of medications for HIV and each of them has specific purposes, but your doctor will recommend a few at a time in order to avoid making your virus drug-resistant.
HIV and pregnancy
Pregnant women can spread the virus to their babies during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. This form of spreading the virus is called perinatal transmission and it is the most common way children get HIV.
It is important to bear in mind that having HIV doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll spread it to your baby for sure. You can minimize this risk by staying as healthy as possible. In order to make it happen, you should see your doctor regularly, adhere to his or her instructions, and practice a healthy lifestyle. Factors that increase the risk of spreading HIV to your baby are smoking, vitamin A deficiency, malnutrition, substance abuse, STIs, breastfeeding. It is recommended that new moms avoid breastfeeding their babies if they have HIV.
HIV is a common problem even today primarily due to all misconceptions about it. One can greatly minimize the risk of HIV by practicing safe sex, avoiding changing sexual partners that often, ditching drugs and needles, among other things. Also, don’t forget to get screened regularly.