Imoh Etuk

HIV and AIDS

Yaaaay!  It feels so good to be welcoming my readers to the last month of the year. Compliments of the season to all my esteemed readers and followers.  Last month, I wrote on obesity, click here to read if you missed it.  This month we shall be delving into another very important health topic called HIV/AIDS.

Interestingly, the 1st of December every year is celebrated all around as “WORLD AIDS DAY”, this is to bring more enlightenment on the disease and to encourage People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) to live their best lives and to adhere to their medication. So, I decided to use the opportunity to throw more light on the disease and to burst any myth surrounding the ailment.

We shall be looking at the Meaning of HIV/AIDS, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment options, Risk Factors, and Management, etc.

Let’s see what exactly is HIV/AIDS

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that infects cells of the immune system, destroying or impairing their functions. Infection with the virus results in progressive deterioration of the immune system, leading to “immune deficiency. Infections occur when the immune system of the body is compromised; these infections are called “Opportunistic Infections”

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is a term that applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection. It is defined by the occurrence of any of more than 20 opportunistic infections or HIV-related cancers.

HIV and AIDS: What’s the connection?

To develop AIDS, a person has to have contracted HIV. But having HIV doesn’t necessarily mean that someone will develop AIDS.

Cases of HIV progress through three stages: –

Stage 1:  Acute stage, the first few weeks after transmission

Stage 2:  Clinical latency, or chronic stage

Stage 3:  AIDS

TRANSMISSION

HIV can be transmitted via the exchange of a variety of body fluids from an infected person, such as blood, breast milk, semen, and vaginal secretions. HIV can also be transmitted from a mother to her child during pregnancy and delivery. Individuals cannot become infected through ordinary day-to-day contacts such as kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or sharing personal objects, food or water.

RISK FACTORS

Behaviors and conditions that put individuals at greater risk of contracting HIV include: –

  • Having unprotected anal or vaginal sex;
  • Having another sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as syphilis, herpes, Chlamydia, gonorrhea and bacterial vaginosis;
  • Sharing contaminated needles, syringes and other injecting equipment and drug solutions when injecting drugs;
  • Receiving unsafe injections, blood transfusions and tissue transplantation, and medical procedures that involve unsterile cutting or piercing; and
  • Experiencing accidental needle stick injuries, including among health workers

WHAT TESTS ARE USED TO DIAGNOSE HIV?

Several different tests can be used to diagnose HIV. Healthcare providers determine which test is best for each person.

  • ANTI-BODY/ANTIGEN TESTS

Antibody/antigen tests are the most commonly used tests. They can show positive results typically within 18-45 days after someone initially contracts HIV.

These tests check the blood for antibodies and antigens. An antibody is a type of protein the body makes to fight infection. An antigen, on the other hand, is the part of the virus that activates the immune system.

  • ANTI-BODY TESTS

These tests check the blood solely for antibodies. Between  23-90 days after transmission, most people will develop detectable HIV antibodies, which can be found in the blood or saliva.

These tests are done using blood tests or mouth swabs, and there’s no preparation necessary. Some tests provide results in 30 minutes or less and can be performed in a healthcare provider’s office or clinic.

Other antibody tests can be done at home:

  • OraQuick HIV TEST. An oral swab provides results in as little as 20 minutes.
  • HOME ACCESS HIV-1 TEST SYSTEM. After the person pricks their finger, they send a blood sample to a licensed laboratory. They can remain anonymous and call for results in the next business day.

If someone suspects they’ve been exposed to HIV but tested negative in a home test, they should repeat the test in three months. If they have a positive result, they should follow up with their healthcare provider to confirm.

  • NUCLEIC ACID TEST (NAT)

This expensive test isn’t used for general screening. It’s for people who have early symptoms of HIV or have a known risk factor. This test doesn’t look for antibodies; it looks for the virus itself. It takes from 5 to 21 days for HIV to be detectable in the blood. This test is usually accompanied or confirmed by an antibody test.

Today, it’s easier than ever to get tested for HIV

What are the symptoms of HIV?

After the first month or so, HIV enters the clinical latency stage. This stage can last from a few years to a few decades. Some people don’t have any symptoms during this time, while others may have minimal or nonspecific symptoms. A nonspecific symptom is a symptom that doesn’t pertain to one specific disease or condition.

These nonspecific symptoms may include:

  • headaches and other aches and pains
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • recurrent fevers
  • night sweats
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • weight loss
  • skin rashes
  • recurrent oral or vaginal yeast infections
  • pneumonia
  • shingles

PREVENTION

Individuals can reduce the risk of HIV infection by limiting exposure to risk factors. Key approaches for HIV prevention, which are often used in combination, are listed below.

  • MALE AND FEMALE CONDOM USE

Correct and consistent use of male and female condoms during vaginal or anal penetration can protect against the spread of STIs, including HIV. Evidence shows that male latex condoms have an 85% or greater protective effect against HIV and other STIs.

  • TESTING AND COUNSELLING FOR HIV AND STIS

Testing for HIV and other STIs is strongly advised for all people exposed to any of the risk factors. This enables people to learn of their own HIV status and access necessary prevention and treatment services without delay. WHO also recommends offering to test for partners or couples.  

Additionally, WHO recommends assisted partner notification approaches, in which people with HIV receive support to inform their partners either on their own or with the help of health care providers

Other preventive methods include avoiding sharing sharp objects, the use of Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) to prevent infection, etc.

  • TREATMENT

The use of Anti-retroviral Therapy (ART) is recommended in the treatment of HIV. There are various classes of Anti-Retroviral Drugs and your healthcare provider will recommend a combination for you as soon as the tests confirming HIV are confirmed positive.

CONCLUSION

HIV is not a death sentence and in addition to Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART), people with HIV often need counseling and Psycho-Social support. Access to good nutrition, safe water, and basic hygiene can also help an HIV-infected person maintain a high quality of life.

Till I come your way next month/next year, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year in advance. STAY AND HEALTHY AND PRODUCTIVE

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