HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV damages your immune system and makes it harder for your body to fight off infections and certain cancers. The symptoms of HIV are often very mild and can easily be mistaken for something else. After several years, most people with HIV develop additional symptoms that make the disease more obvious. You should see your doctor right away if you’re showing any signs of HIV or AIDS.
Risk Factors for HIV
The most common way to get infected with HIV is through unprotected sex with an infected partner. If you have multiple partners, have sex without a condom, or are a man who has sex with men (MSM), then you may be at higher risk for contracting HIV than others. At-risk groups include men who have sex with men and IV drug users.
How Do I Know If I Have Been Exposed to HIV?
You can take an at-home test to see if you’ve been exposed to HIV. You can also visit your doctor, who will run blood tests that detect antibodies for HIV infection. These tests are highly accurate and simple enough for a doctor to administer in his or her office.
The Dangers of Delay
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Early detection could make all the difference in your treatment outcome and ultimately your life expectancy. And if you’ve been exposed to someone who has HIV, getting tested immediately is critical. If a recent sexual partner also tested positive for HIV, begin a course of treatment even before getting tested and do so in addition to testing for yourself.
Testing and Diagnosis
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all individuals between ages 13 to 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. The CDC also recommends that individuals who are at high risk such as those who have multiple sex partners or partners with a high risk of being infected get tested on an annual basis.
The term HIV treatment is somewhat misleading because it implies that once you start a regimen, you will be cured and your viral load will vanish. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens not even close. With antiretroviral therapy (ART), your viral load may become undetectable butt you won’t be cured. Your immune system is still compromised, meaning you can develop opportunistic infections that are often resistant to treatment.
Important Facts About HIV Prevention
Even though we don’t know how someone is infected with HIV, we do know how to prevent it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 300,000 people in America are living with undiagnosed HIV infection, a condition that puts them at high risk for transmitting the virus to others. It’s imperative to talk openly about preventing contracting and spreading HIV.