We all know prevention is better than cure but some things just don’t go as planned and we should know how to handle it when it comes our way too. Some may know that HIV and AIDS have a correlation but do we really know what it means or why and how they are linked?
What is HIV?
HIV is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the human immunodeficiency virus which attacks the immune system. Most times when HIV is left unattended, it can lead to the most advanced stage of HIV - acquired immunodeficiency syndrome also known as (AIDS) where the immune system is at a drastic enfeeble condition. There is currently no exact cure for it. Hence, once someone contracts HIV, they have it for life. Nevertheless, HIV is manageable with proper medical care. Those diagnosed with HIV are able to receive effective HIV treatment which helps them to live a long and healthy life and protect their partners at the same time.
How are HIV and AIDS related?
HIV destroys CD4 T cells also known as white blood cells. These CD4 T cells are responsible for helping our body fight against diseases. It is known that the lesser number of CD4 T cells present in the system, the weaker the immune system becomes. It is possible for one to contract an HIV infection with minimal or no symptoms for a long period of time before it actually transmutes into AIDS. The diagnosis of AIDS happens when the CD4 T cell count goes below 200 or when further complication happens such as a serious infection or cancer.
Signs and symptoms
HIV symptoms vary depending on the infection stage. It is also known that those who have contracted HIV can be extremely infectious in the first few months. However, most of them may neglect their status until later on. Typically, the first few weeks after contracting an HIV infection, some may experience no symptoms whereas others could encounter an influenza-like illness which includes feeling feverish, experiencing a rash, sore throat, or even a headache.
Other symptoms include:
Swollen lymph nodes
How to know if you’ve contracted HIV?
The only way one is able to find out their HIV status is to get tested. It is important to know your HIV status as it not only prevents further transmission of AIDS but also helps with general decision making.
HIV can be easily diagnosed through a rapid diagnostic test with results provided on the same day, similar to a Covid test. This can then greatly facilitate early diagnosis and provide the necessary treatment and care for those in need. Over the years, people have been using HIV self-tests to test themselves. However, it is proven that there is no self-test kit that is able to provide a full HIV diagnosis. Hence, it is always better to opt for a confirmatory test. These tests are usually carried out by a professional from the medical field.
How to get an HIV test?
Visit any government hospital
Request for an HIV test from the person in charge at the counter
A nurse will provide advice & counselling regarding the test beforehand
The test will be carried out using the Rapid Test kit and will require a drop of blood to be drawn from the tip of your finger. Test result will normally be ready within 15 minutes
You will be given further explanations if your result comes out as ‘non-reactive’
You will be also be advised to repeat the test within 3 to 6 months if you are at risk of contracting HIV
If the test result turns out ‘reactive’, advice will be given accordingly and a confirmatory test will be carried out subsequently
Take note: The test is extremely hassle-free. It is 100% FREE. All you need to do is make your way to any government healthcare centre. Also, you need not worry as your personal details and blood test result will be kept anonymous and confidential.
How does HIV spread?
HIV can be passed on when there is an exchange of body fluids between a non-HIV positive individual and an HIV positive individual. For instance:
Transfusion of blood
Secretions from the vagina or penis
Sharing contaminated needles and syringe
During pregnancy and delivery process
Do take note that HIV does not infect individuals through habitual daily contact such as hand shaking, cuddling, smooching, or even sharing individual belongings such as food or water. In other words, those who are HIV positive and are undergoing antiretroviral therapy (ART) are at no risk of transmitting HIV to their sexual partners. Hence, having early access to ART is extremely important as it not only improves the health of those with HIV but at the same time prevents HIV transmission.
As of now, there isn’t any specific treatment for those with HIV/AIDS. However, there are medications such as fusion inhibitors which are able to dramatically delay the progression of the disease. These drugs have been proven to reduce the number of AIDS deaths in many developed countries.
The treatment for HIV/AIDS with medicines is known as the antiretroviral therapy (ART). It is highly recommended for those who are HIV positive. Although the medicines are not able to cure HIV infections entirely, they play a part in lessening the risk of the condition and make it much more manageable.
HIV/AIDS medicines are responsible in minimising the amount of HIV qualities in the system. They also play a part in speeding up the recovery rate of your immune system. Even though there will always be some remaining traces of HIV in your system, your immune system should be strong enough to fight off infections and certain HIV-related cancers, at the same time reduce the risk of spreading HIV to others.
Individuals can always protect themselves and others from the infection by taking the precautions below:
Utilizing treatment as prevention (TasP). If you ever find out that you’re HIV positive, you can still protect your loved ones from becoming infected by consuming HIV medications. Using TasP requires one to only consume the exact prescribed dosage which also includes going for regular check-ups.
Wear a new condom every time you have sex. Make it a habit to put on a new condom when you have any form of sex. Women on the other hand are encouraged to use a female condom.
Inform your sexual partners on your HIV status. It's important to notify all your sexual partners that you're HIV-positive; past or current. They have the right to know.
Go for HIV/STD screening test – Make it a point to conduct testing frequently especially if you’re sexually active.
Use a clean needle. Make sure it is sterile and avoid sharing at all cost.
Seek instant proper medical care if you're pregnant. If you're HIV-positive, your baby might be at a high risk of contracting the infection. However, if you receive treatment during pregnancy, you can significantly reduce the risk of your baby contracting HIV.
Consider male circumcision. It has been proven that male circumcision plays a part in reducing the risk of contracting HIV.
By: Megan Yap