Thursday, February 9, 2012

HIV and AIDS – the Essential Facts

If you think you may have been exposed to HIV or AIDS, through unprotected sex with a stranger or accidental exposure to an infected person’s blood, then there’s no time to delay – an HIV test is essential, both for your peace of mind and for the sake of your health. Here are the essential facts that you need to know about HIV and AIDS…

How can HIV/AIDS be caught?

HIV and AIDS are transmitted through direct contact with infected bodily fluids. There are several common ways that people are infected:

• Sexual contact through vaginal or anal sex

• Sharing needles with an infected individual. Rarely, this can include tattoos and piercings

• Blood transfusions or accidental exposure to infected blood

• Mother to child transmission during pregnancy or during birth. Breast feeding, in some cases, can also lead to HIV infection

How can it be prevented?

The most important precautions to take are to make sure that you always use a new, sterile needle for any injection that you take, and to always use a condom during sex unless both you and your partner have had an HIV test. The contraceptive pill, diaphragms and spermicidal jelly cannot prevent infection during sex – only condoms are an effective preventative.

What are the symptoms?

Unfortunately, HIV and AIDS do not present any clear symptoms. Approximately 4 weeks after infection, most people will suffer a fever, glandular swelling, rashes, a sore throat and muscle aches. Since these symptoms are so general, they are frequently mistaken or misdiagnosed. The only way to be certain is to take an HIV or AIDS test.

What are the treatments?

There is currently no cure or vaccine for HIV or AIDS. However, there are various courses of retroviral drugs that can help to manage the symptoms and greatly increase the quality and length of life. Early diagnosis is critical, which is why HIV tests are so important for anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to the virus.

How do I get an HIV test?

There are numerous sexual health clinics around the US that offer confidential HIV tests. Most people choose to purchase them privately rather than through their insurance for the sake of privacy.

The first HIV test that is usually administered is the HIV-1 test. This is a blood test that checks for the antibodies that the body produces to fight the HIV infection. However, it can only be taken six weeks or more after exposure, as it takes time for the body to generate these antibodies. Another HIV test, the HIV PCR, can detect the virus 4-11 days after exposure. If either of these initial tests gives a positive result, follow tests are required to confirm it (the HIV-1 test can occasionally give false positive results, as it is very sensitive.)

How often should I have an HIV test?

Comprehensive STD screening, including an HIV test, is recommended once a year for all sexually active adults who have three or more sexual partners in that year. An HIV test is also recommended if you intend to start having unprotected sex with a partner, and, due to the risk of transmission to a child, is usually part of a standard health check up at the start of a pregnancy.