What is HIV?
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
- There is currently no effective cure. Once people get HIV, they have it for life.
- But with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. People with HIV who get effective HIV treatment can live long, healthy lives and protect their partners.
There are three stages of HIV, acute, chronic, and AIDS:
Stage 1: Acute HIV
- People have a large amount of HIV in their blood. They are very contagious.
- Some people have flu-like symptoms. This is the body’s natural response to infection.
- But some people may not feel sick right away or at all.
- If you have flu-like symptoms and think you may have been exposed to HIV, seek medical care and ask for a test to diagnose acute infection.
- Only antigen/antibody tests or nucleic acid tests (NATs) can diagnose acute infection.
Stage 2: Chronic HIV
- This stage is also called asymptomatic HIV infection or clinical latency.
- HIV is still active but reproduces at very low levels.
- People may not have any symptoms or get sick during this phase.
- Without taking HIV medicine, this period may last a decade or longer, but some may progress faster.
- People can transmit HIV in this phase.
- At the end of this phase, the amount of HIV in the blood (called viral load) goes up and the CD4 cell count goes down. The person may have symptoms as the virus levels increase in the body, and the person moves into Stage 3.
- People who take HIV medicine as prescribed may never move into Stage 3.
Stage 3: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
- The most severe phase of HIV infection.
- People with AIDS have such badly damaged immune systems that they get an increasing number of severe illnesses, called opportunistic infections.
- People receive an AIDS diagnosis when their CD4 cell count drops below 200 cells/mm, or if they develop certain opportunistic infections.
- People with AIDS can have a high viral load and be very infectious.
- Without treatment, people with AIDS typically survive about three years.
How do you get HIV?
HIV spreads when the blood of an infected person enters your bloodstream. Certain factors can increase your risk of getting HIV, such as:
- Having sexual contact with a person infected with HIV
- Injecting drugs and sharing needles
- Being born to a mother with HIV
- Getting a tattoo or piercing from unsterilized equipment
- Having a profession that exposes you to infected blood, such as working in health care
What are the symptoms of HIV?
Some people have flu-like symptoms within 2 to 4 weeks after infection (called acute HIV infection). These symptoms may last for a few days or several weeks. Possible symptoms include
- Night sweats,
- Muscle aches,
- Sore throat,
- Swollen lymph nodes, and
- Mouth ulcers.
But some people may not feel sick during acute HIV infection. These symptoms don’t mean you have HIV. Other illnesses can cause these same symptoms.
Call Arizona Infectious Disease, if you have these symptoms and think you may have been exposed to HIV. Getting tested for HIV is the only way to know for sure.
Should I get tested for HIV?
CDC recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once.
People at higher risk should get tested more often. If you were HIV-negative last the time you were tested, the test was more than one year ago, and you can answer yes to any of the following questions, then you should get an HIV test as soon as possible:
- Are you a man who has had sex with another man?
- Have you had sex—anal or vaginal—with a partner who has HIV?
- Have you had more than one sex partner since your last HIV test?
- Have you injected drugs and shared needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment (for example, cookers) with others?
- Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
- Have you been diagnosed with or treated for another sexually transmitted disease?
- Have you been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)?
- Have you had sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions or someone whose sexual history you don’t know?
You should be tested at least once a year if you keep doing any of these things. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (for example, every 3 to 6 months).
If you’re pregnant, talk to your health care provider about getting tested for HIV and other ways to protect you and your child from getting HIV.
Before having sex for the first time with a new partner, you and your partner should talk about your sexual and drug-use history, disclose your HIV status, and consider getting tested for HIV and learning the results.
How Do You Test For and Treat HIV?
At Arizona Infectious Disease, we can test your blood to determine whether you have HIV. Even if you don’t have any symptoms, we recommend HIV screening if you fall into a high-risk group.
Treatment varies, depending on your needs. We may recommend antiviral medications to treat HIV. Recent medical developments have made these medications much easier to take and more effective than ever before.
If you’re suffering from, or at risk of, developing HIV, call Arizona Infectious Disease or book an appointment online today.