HIV is an acronym for human immunodeficiency virus. The virus spreads from an infected person through the exchange of certain bodily fluids and attacks the body’s immune system. This large-scale destruction of the body’s T-cells compromises the body’s natural immune response, rendering it vulnerable to bacterial or viral infections like HIV.
Some population groups are more likely to get HIV, due to risky behaviors such as IV drug use and unprotected sex. While there is no cure for HIV, it can be managed and controlled with proper medical intervention. A properly administered HIV regimen can prolong life, keeping HIV-positive people healthy and lowering their chances of transmitting the disease.
There is a relatively new treatment called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) which can help people to avoid being infected with HIV. This is particularly beneficial for homosexual or bisexual men or for people whose partner is HIV-positive. Our team at FamilyCare of Kent offers this treatment to patients.
How Is HIV Transmitted?
HIV spreads through specific activities – particularly through risky sexual behaviors and sharing needles in illicit drug use. HIV does not survive long and cannot reproduce outside the host body.
Bodily fluids – including blood, semen, rectal and vaginal fluids, and breast milk from an HIV carrier – can all transmit the virus. If these fluids come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue (such as broken skin), or if they are directly injected into the bloodstream, HIV transmission can occur.
HIV is spread in the following ways:
- Having unprotected anal or vaginal sex with an HIV carrier
- Sharing needles or syringes with a carrier
- From a carrier mother to her child during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding
- By being stuck with an HIV-contaminated needle or sharp object
- Through oral sex
- Via contaminated blood transfusions, blood products, or organ/tissue transplants
- Through deep, open-mouthed kissing if one or both infected partners have sores or bleeding gums
HIV is not transmitted by:
- Insect bites
- Touching, hugging, shaking hands, or closed-mouthed kissing
- Sharing toilets
- Sharing food and drink
The Dangeers of HIV
The real danger with HIV is that many years can pass before the first symptoms appear, so the patient may go without treatment for too long. The immune system is already compromised at this point, so certain infections can be life-threatening.
HIV is no longer just a single-strand virus. It has mutated into various “super strands.” Today there are many different subtypes of HIV, and one theory is that these may occur when an HIV-infected individual is re-infected with another type of strand.
Stages and Symptoms of HIV
HIV symptoms vary depending on the patient and the stage of the disease: early, clinical latency, and AIDS.
Early Stage of HIV
Some people with HIV do not feel sick, nor do they display symptoms. About 50% experience flu-like symptoms within 2-4 weeks of infection, including fatigue, chills, fever, rash, swollen lymph nodes, and night sweats.
Latency Stage of HIV
This stage is also called “chronic HIV infection.” Symptoms may include chronic fatigue or occasional flu-like symptoms, or no symptoms at all. This stage can last for many years – even a decade or more – or it may progress rapidly.
AIDS – the Final Stage of HIV
Eventually, the body’s immune system will weaken and progress to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which is the final stage of HIV infection. Symptoms can include:
- Rapid weight loss
- Extreme fatigue
- Recurring fever
- Night sweats
- Chronic diarrhea
- Sores in the mouth, anus, or genitalia
- Swollen lymph glands
- Skin rashes
- Blotchy nose or eyelids
- Memory loss
Treatment Options for the Virus
Thanks to modern treatments, HIV/AIDS is not automatically a death sentence like it was once assumed to be. These treatments are showing wonderful promise for extending life indefinitely.
The treatments can cause tiredness, weakness, and nausea. Regular monitoring is critical for the most effective outcome.
For people at very high risk of HIV, PrEP is very effective at stopping HIV from taking hold and spreading. Our specialists can explain how this treatment might work well for you.
Testing for HIV
The only surefire way to find out whether a person is a carrier of HIV is to get tested. High-risk people should get tested annually. Even monogamous partners should get tested if either or both have had multiple partners or potential exposure to infected bodily fluids. Types of HIV tests include the following:
- Nucleic acid test (NAT) looks for HIV in the blood of those who have recently had a high-risk exposure.
- An antigen/antibody test looks for both HIV antibodies and antigens. With HIV, an antigen called p24 is produced even before antibodies develop.
- Rapid tests and home tests look for antibodies in blood or oral fluid.
Can I Avoid Contracting the Virus?
Smart lifestyle and behavioral strategies such as abstinence, limiting sexual partners, never sharing needles, and always using condoms are important preventive measures.
Take advantage of newer HIV prevention medicines such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). This has been proven to help people avoid contracting HIV.
Living with HIV
More than one million people in the U.S. are living with HIV. Patients are living longer, better-quality lives.
Smart choices for living with HIV include:
- Stay healthy – Begin medical care and treatment immediately after diagnosis. Visit your medical professional regularly and take medication as directed.
- Be honest – Disclose your HIV status to your sex partners and medical professionals.
- Get support – Health care and social service providers can help you to manage your HIV.
- Get tested – Protect your partners by getting tested and treated for other STDs.
- Use protection – Use a condom the right way every time, with every sexual partner.
Health Care Professionals in Kent, Washington
If you suspect you may be infected by HIV, or simply want more information, call FamilyCare of Kent today at (253) 859-2273. You can also fill out our simple online appointment request form now.
Our team of experienced nurse practitioners will professionally and discreetly provide any care necessary for HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, from discussing prevention to going over treatment options. We look forward to seeing you.