HIV is a virus that can render a host's immune system incapable of providing effective protection. The most common transmission route for this virus is through unprotected sex with an infected person.
HIV tests are a sure way to find out your HIV status after unprotected sex. Several guidelines recommend getting tested for HIV at 1, 3, and 6 months after risky sex. Most of the time, sensitive antibody/antigen tests will return a positive result in a month. HIV tests at 3 and 6 months will almost always indicate whether you are HIV positive or not.
There are several HIV testing modalities available, each with its own sensitivity. However, tests carried out in lab settings are thought to be more accurate than the ones carried out at home. Getting tested for HIV in a lab setting after a risky sexual encounter is recommended.
WHAT TO DO AFTER A RISKY SEXUAL ENCOUNTER?
Immediately after being exposed to HIV, contact your healthcare provider. Since HIV is only mildly symptomatic in the initial stages, individuals need to contact their doctor immediately after a risky exposure.
Your doctor might prescribe a post-exposure prophylactic (nPEP) treatment. The nPEP treatment consists of antiviral drugs that the exposed person has to take for a month to ensure the virus doesn't multiply in the body. However, nPEP has a short working window. nPEP only works if the individual takes it within 72 hours of possible HIV exposure. Therefore, immediately consulting your doctor after such an event occurs is of paramount importance.
Testing is done before and after the nPEP treatment to ensure the effectiveness of the treatment because a slight chance of contracting the virus still exists. People who are HIV positive and take their nPEP medication daily prevent the virus from multiplying in their bodies and don't develop a detectable viral load. Achieving and keeping an undetectable viral load is the goal of HIV treatment.
Testing for HIV regularly is also important as it can help put your mind at ease. Early diagnosis and immediate treatment are proven to have a significant positive impact on your HIV treatment. Sexually active individuals should get tested annually for sexually transmitted diseases.
After HIV exposure, a person is at a high risk of transmitting the virus to others. Unless you know your status, use sterile instruments and have safe sex to prevent transmitting the virus to others.
HOW DOES HIV TESTING WORK?
Multiple testing modalities are available for an accurate diagnosis of HIV. These tests either look for antigens and antibodies produced in response to the virus or simply the virus itself. Depending on the quality of risk involved in your potential exposure, your doctor may prescribe any of the following tests:
- Antibody detection test
- Antibody/antigen tests
- Nucleic acid detection tests
All three of these tests have varying time frames during which they are used. However, all of them are sensitive enough to detect HIV status accurately.
As the name suggests, antibody detection tests look for anti-HIV antibodies in your blood. This type of testing is cheap and widely used in most clinical settings. It is also the only type of HIV test that the FDA approves for home use.
Antibody/antigen tests work similarly to antibody detection tests. However, in addition to the antibodies, they also look for an antigen produced in response to the virus.
NATs, or nucleic acid tests, are highly accurate and the most sensitive for HIV. However, they are considered expensive and only used in lab settings if other tests do not return a satisfactory result.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT RISKY SEXUAL ENCOUNTERS IN THE FUTURE?
Individuals can use multiple preventive strategies to reduce the risk of HIV infection. Almost all of these preventative measures are focused on reducing the risk associated with transmission through sex.
Condoms are the safest and the surest way to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. Condoms create a physical barrier between genital fluids and the skin of the genitals. This physical barrier prevents the virus from coming into direct contact with the unaffected person's genitalia.
Using dental dams as protection during oral sex is also a good preventative measure. HIV can be transmitted in mouth-to-vagina and mouth-to-anus sex, however dental dams help reduce the probability of this happening.
Some of the other preventive measures include:
- Getting tested for HIV regularly
- Avoiding unprotected sex with multiple sexual partners
- Making sure that your sexual partners also get tested regularly
For people who exhibit high-risk behavior for HIV infection, PrEP may be a useful preventive method against HIV.
ROLE OF PrEP IN HIV PREVENTION
PrEP is pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV. This medication prevents HIV infection if taken regularly according to the prescribed schedule. You will have to take PrEP daily for it to be effective. Studies show that PrEP can provide up to 99% protection against HIV from sexual intercourse when taken daily and regularly. It can also provide up to 74% protection against HIV through injection drug use.
PrEP involves taking an oral pill every day for as long as protection against HIV is required. This means that for as long as you engage in risky sexual behavior, taking PrEP regularly is a good idea.
The maximum level of protection is reached after seven days of starting the PrEP regime. Afterward, one pill a day is taken orally for as long as you want to stay protected against HIV. It is not recommended to take breaks or discontinue the medication while on PrEP since it can lose its effectiveness.
HOW EFFECTIVE IS PrEP IN PREVENTING HIV?
As mentioned before, PrEP can provide up to 99% protection against HIV if taken regularly. Such a level of protection is usually enough to keep you from acquiring HIV infection through sexual intercourse. However, its effectiveness drops when doses are missed in the PrEP regime.
IS PrEP THE SAME THING AS nPEP?
nPEP and PrEP are different medication regimes. The only similarity between the two treatment modalities is that both of them protect against HIV infection. PrEP is taken before exposure to risk factors, while nPEP is taken after exposure to HIV has occurred.