All you need to know about HIV

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Deep Medical Therapeutics (DMT Labs) is a Medical technology company founded in 2018. We specialize in affordable diagnostic services. We hope the blog article below, compiled by our expert, answers your questions when it comes to HIV.

A high-level overview of HIV

This article will explore:

What is HIV?

HIV is short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that infects and damages cells in your body that compromises your immune system. It eventually leads to immunodeficiency

This is dangerous because your body can no longer fight off disease or infections. You become vulnerable to catching diseases and infections compared to people who are not immune compromised. 

HIV is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) but can be transmitted through contact with infected blood and other ways, which we touch on later in the article. 

What is the difference between HIV and Aids?

AIDS (Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is chronic and can be a life-threatening condition that HIV causes. It describes the collection of symptoms and infections you may have when you are immunocompromised. It is the most advanced stage of HIV.
AIDS is not transmitted from one person to another. However, HIV can be.

There is currently no cure for HIV. However, those who test early, receive and follow the proper treatment can still live long lives.

HIV Virus

HIV Symptoms

15% of people do not know that they have been infected with HIV initially. Nevertheless, directly after catching the infection, some people have symptoms of glandular fever-like illness (with fever, rash, joint pains and enlarged lymph nodes). This usually happens between 1-2 months after catching the infection when there is the development of antibodies to HIV. Other symptoms include: 

  • Fever 
  • Sore throat 
  • Swollen lymph nodes 
  • Rash 
  • Muscle aches 
  • Night sweats 
  • Mouth ulcers 
  • Chills 
  • Fatigue 

 

HIV Symptoms are mostly the same for men and women. However, there are a few differences that we highlight below.  

HIV Symptoms in women

Usually, these symptoms are present in the later stages of the infection. Women may experience: 

Period changes: Your flow may be heavier or lighter, with sporadic timing or severe PM. Be careful as these symptoms can also result from other STIs or lifestyle changes. 

Lower belly pain: This could be caused by pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). If you have PID, you could also experience the following: 

  • Atypical vaginal discharge 
  • A fever 
  • Irregular periods 
  • Pain during sex 
  • Pain in your upper belly 

 

Vaginal yeast infections: If you have HIV, you could get these several times a year. You may have the following symptoms 

  • Thick white discharge 
  • Experience pain during sex 
  • Burning sensation when you pee 
  • Vaginal burning or soreness 

 

Cervical cancer: This can be an AIDS-defining symptom. Women who have HIV should get an annual screening for cervical cancer.

HIV symptoms in men

Some of the symptoms we list below could also be caused by other infections or underlying issues. 

Low libido (sex drive): This could mean your testicles are not producing enough testosterone. This could cause 

  • Erectile dysfunction 
  • Depression 
  • Fatigue 
  • Infertility 
  • Reduced hair growth  

Open sores on mouth, oesophagus, anus or penis: These can be painful and often come back if you have HIV. 

Burning sensation or pain when urinating: This is commonly an STI symptom for Gonorrhea or chlamydia. It may cause swelling of the prostate and cause: 

  • Pain when ejaculating 
  • Urinating more often and having cloudy or bloody pee 
  • Experience pain in the bladder, testicles, penis 
  • Lower back, abdomen, or groin pain 

How HIV Is Transmitted:

HIV is predominantly transferred through anal or vaginal sex.  

During unprotected anal sex, you can catch HIV: 

  • If the receiver (bottom): your rectum’s lining is thin and creates an easy way for HIV to enter your body. 
  • If you are the inserter (top): HIV can enter through the opening in your penis. You are at more risk if you are not circumcised and have minor cuts or scratches on your penis. 

During unprotected vaginal sex, you could catch HIV: 

  • It can enter your body through the sensitive tissue that lines the vagina and cervix. 
  • Vaginal fluid and blood can carry HIV. It can be passed through the tip of the penis or open cuts and scratches. 

 

From mother to baby: 

A mother can transmit it to her baby through pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. However, this is not as common thanks to the advancement of medications. 

You should get an HIV test and start treatment immediately if positive to reduce the chances of infecting your child. If this medication is taken correctly and the child is given the medication 4-6 weeks after birth, the transmission risk is below 1%.  

 

Sharing needles or other drug injection equipment: 

If you use any injection or needle that someone with HIV has used, you are very at risk of catching HIV. You are also at risk of getting Hep B and Hep C as well as other infections. 

There is minimal risk of catching HIV from the activities mentioned below. There would need to be something unusual happen to catch HIV this way: 

  • Oral sex. 
  • At your workplace, if there is an accident. 
  • Through medical care such as a blood transfusion. 
  • Food contamination (only known for infants). If an infant eats pre-chewed food by a person who has HIV, their blood mixes with this food. 
  • Biting: if there is an exchange of blood that is infected with HIV. 
  • Open-mouth kissing: It is extremely rare to catch HIV through kissing. Only if both partners have internal mouth sores or bleeding gums. 
  • Touching: There needs to be an exchange of infected blood with another person’s mucous membranes (rectum, vagina, opening of penis, mouth) for someone to get infected. 
  • Tattoos/ body piercings. Make sure all needles are cleaned and never used. 
HIV Definition

Stages of HIV

If you do not take any treatment, there are three stages to HIV.  

When you think you are first exposed, you have a window period of 72 hours to take Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), a medication to help prevent you from getting HIV in the first place.  

Stage 1

This is when you have acute HIV infection. You would have a large amount if HIV in your blood and be contagious. Symptoms can often appear flu-like. If you think you have been exposed, get tested.

Stage 2

This is when you have chronic HIV infection, also known as asymptomatic HIV infection or clinical latency. HIV is still present and continues to replicate. It is a dangerous stage as people may not have any symptoms; however, they can transmit HIV. Without treatment, this stage could last for a decade or progress more quickly.

Stage 3

You have now entered Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This is the most severe stage of HIV infection. People who are at this stage can transmit HIV to others. Your immune system is very damaged, and you are very susceptible to catching other infections. Without treatment, you would only survive about 3 years.

Testing for HIV

You can access three types of HIV tests. The antibody tests, antigen/antibody tests, and nucleic acid tests (NAT). These tests usually use blood, oral fluid, or urine. That being said, no test can detect HIV directly after exposure. There is a window period

This means that there is a certain amount of time when any test that you take may not be able to detect HIV, even if you do have it. To be sure, you should take a second HIV test after the window period has passed.   

Antibody results 

  • An antibody test looks for HIV antibodies in your blood or oral fluid.  
  • Most of the rapid tests and some of the “at-home” tests use antibody technology.  
  • The rapid at-home test takes <30 minutes. 
  • You can take this test 23-90 days post-infection. 

 

Antigen/antibody tests 

  • This test looks for antigens and antibodies and is usually performed in a lab. It uses blood drawn from someone’s veins. 
  • This rapid test can take about 30 minutes. 
  • This test can detect if you have HIV 18-45 days after exposure to the virus. 
  • If this test is performed in a lab, it could take several days for a result. 
  • You can also take a rapid test using the blood from your fingertip. The window period for this is 18-90 days

 

Nucleic Acid Tests (NAT)  

  • This type of test looks for the virus in the blood.  
  • A lab requires blood drawn from a vein for this type of test. 
  • You can detect HIV 10-33 days after being exposed to HIV. 
  • If you have had recent exposure, then take this test. 
  • If this test is performed in a lab, it could take several days for a result. 
  • This test is used most to monitor how people who have HIV respond to treatment. 

 

Rapid blood test 

  • Also, an antibody test using blood from your finger prick. 
  • About as accurate as the antibody test. Be careful. It has a more extended window period (18-90 days). 

 

Rapid oral test 

  • A swab must be rubbed between your teeth and gums to collect a sample of oral fluid. 
  • This test is accurate if you have had HIV for a while.  
  • If you recently caught this infection, this test will not be reliable. 
  • The window period is 23-90 days

 

Urine test 

  • Again, this test looks for antibodies. 
  • More accurate than the blood and oral fluid tests. 
  • This test also has a window period that you need to be aware of.

What do the test results mean?

Positive HIV test 

You should always do a follow-up test if you receive a positive result. If you have taken a positive self-test/ at-home test, we suggest going to a healthcare provider. They will take a test and process it in a lab. If you initially took a lab test, they will process the test a second time to ensure your result is accurate. If your second test is also positive, you have HIV. 

Negative HIV test 

Be careful. A negative result doesn’t mean you don’t have HIV. Remember, HIV has a window period. It would help if you waited for the window period to pass and then took another test to be sure you do not have HIV. If the second test returns negative post the window period, you do not have HIV.  

HIV Treatment

You will be prescribed antiretroviral therapy (ART) to try to control the virus. Globally there are 23.3 million people on HIV treatment. A person who tests positive and starts ART can have the same life expectancy as someone who doesn’t have HIV. 

ART includes a combination of HIV medications. These medications involve drugs from different drug classes to try to: 

  • Be effective for individual drug resistance 
  • Reduce the chance of creating new drug-resistant strains 
  • Try to suppress the virus in the blood effectively 

You can also get injections that you need to take every two months. However, there are certain requirements you need to meet to qualify for this. 

To see more details and information relating to HIV treatment.

HIV Treatment

New HIV Variant

A group of researchers from the University of Oxford, Big Data Institute, have released a new study this year. It reveals a highly virulent variant of subtype B of HIV. This variant is more transmissible and damaging. This means people with this strain of HIV are at risk of developing AIDS more quickly. However, this variant has already been circulating for years in the Netherlands and is receptive to HIV treatment.   

Questions And Answers

HIV is predominantly transferred through unprotected anal or vaginal sex. Earlier in this article, we covered all the possible ways HIV can be transmitted. 

Usually, you develop symptoms a couple of weeks to two months after infection. You can show bad flue like symptoms.

This can happen. HIV has a window period where it could go undetected. You should contact a healthcare provider to take a second test after the window period has passed.

There is no cure for HIV.

No. But if exposed, you can take Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) medication up to 72 hours after exposure. This may help prevent you from getting HIV after initial exposure.

HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva.

People who take their medication daily and have an undetectable viral load have minimal risk of transmitting the virus to someone else.

The only way to know if you have HIV is by taking a test. You can order an at-home HIV test. Otherwise, you can go to a pharmacy and buy one.

No. You can only catch it if both of you have open sores in your mouths or open wounds where there will be an exchange of infected blood.
Where can I get tested?

Deep medical therapeutics offers HIV and STD testing services. You can either ask a nurse to come to your location to take a test; otherwise, you can visit one of our clinics. Your sample will be sent to our accredited laboratories for processing. Visit us on our website and follow the link to STI Testing. You will be able to find all our STD tests.

If you would like to learn more about STDs and STD Test, you can read our article: Sexually Transmitted Infections: The 5 Facts You Need To Know.

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