WHAT IS HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. If not treated, this virus can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS. This virus attacks the body’s immune system - specifically your CD4 cells or T-cells which help you fight off infections.
With your immune system compromised, you become more susceptible to other infections and infection-related cancers. Over time, HIV can destroy most of your T-Cells to the point where your body can no longer fight infections and diseases. When this happens, opportunistic infections set in, resulting in AIDS.
3 STAGES OF HIV
People who don’t receive HIV treatment go through 3 stages:
Stage 1: Acute HIV Infection
Symptoms begin as a flu-like illness that occur within 4 weeks of infection. This can last for a few weeks. During this stage, people infected with HIV are very contagious. Unfortunately, most of those infected are not aware because they may not feel severely sick. An antigen test or nucleic acid (NAT) test is necessary to know if you are infected with HIV or not.
State 2: HIV Dormancy
This stage is often referred to as chronic HIV infection or asymptomatic HIV infection. During this phase, HIV becomes dormant or inactive and reproduces very slowly. Usually, this stage doesn’t have any symptoms.
You can be in this stage of the infection for decades or even longer. Although, there are cases where some people progress through this phase fast. If you are taking HIV treatment, the dormancy stage can last for several decades.
During this phase, you can still transmit the virus to other people. However, there are HIV treatments that can keep you virally suppressed so you don’t end up transmitting HIV to your sexual partners.
After dormancy, the virus multiplies rapidly again and symptoms start to show up.
Stage 3: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
This is the most severe and final stage of an HIV infection. Because your immune system is badly compromised, you become more likely to fall victim of severe, opportunistic illnesses like:
- Toxoplasmosis (a brain infection caused by a parasite)
- Cytomegalovirus (a type of herpes)
- Cryptococcal meningitis (a fungal infection of the brain)
AIDS-related deaths are not caused by the virus itself. Rather, it’s due to the complication of illnesses caused by a severely weakened immune system. People with AIDS will survive for about 3 years and tend to be very contagious.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF HIV?
Scientists believe that HIV appeared as early as the 1920s. HIV is a mutation of the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) that infects African chimpanzees. The virus entered the human population when people ate infected chimpanzee meat. SIV then mutated into what’s now known as HIV.
For several decades, HIV spread throughout Africa until it found its way to the other parts of the world. It was in 1959 when scientists first discovered HIV in human blood.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HIV?
HIV can be very tricky to diagnose without professional help. During its dormancy stage which could last for decades, you may not have any symptoms at all. And if you do have symptoms, they’ll most likely be non-specific, meaning they won’t point to a particular disease.
Below are some examples of these non-specific symptoms:
- Recurring fevers
- Recurring oral or vaginal yeast infections
- Night sweats
- Skin rashes (often characterised by many flat, raised, small red lesions)
- Weight loss
As you can see, these HIV symptoms can point to one disease or another. If you are feeling one or two of these symptoms and you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, get yourself tested.
WHERE CAN I DO A HIV TEST?
The simplest way to test for HIV is through using HIV testing kits, as you will get your results within minutes. These kits are available to be delivered discreetly through Express Pharmacy and our BioSure HIV Testing Kit is proven to be 99.7% accurate in testing for HIV.
High-risk groups, in particular, are advised to get tested for HIV regularly. These groups include:
- Men who have sex with men - get tested every 3 months if you are having unprotected sex with multiple partners.
- African men and women - get a HIV test and a regular STI and HIV screen if you are engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners.
- People who share syringes and needles
Sharing your HIV status is not a mandatory requirement, as living with HIV may take time getting used to. However, you and your recent sexual partners must be tested if you have suspicions or a diagnosis.
IS THERE A CURE FOR HIV?
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for HIV. The most effective method we have right now against HIV is antiretroviral treatment. This type of HIV treatment doesn’t eliminate the virus, but it does help to control the growth of HIV, allowing you to live a happy and healthy life.
HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF FROM HIV?
Public Health England (PHE) reports that 95% of people diagnosed with HIV have been infected via sexual contact. Using a condom is the main and most effective method of protection. This means using a condom for all types of sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal and oral sexual activities.
Another way to protect yourself from HIV is to ensure that you are not sharing needles, syringes or other injecting equipment. This will prevent cross-contamination of bodily fluids.
WARWICK PHARMACY IS HERE TO HELP
Understanding HIV and understanding the symptoms can be a daunting process. At Warwick Pharmacy, we want to help you feel confident in your test results and seek professional help, should you require it.