HIV is a huge concern in both the developed and the developing world. In the US alone, more than at least 35,000 new cases of HIV are reported each year.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV for short, is a virus that causes a dangerous sexually transmitted infection. This infection is also termed as HIV. HIV attacks the immune system of a person, particularly the CD4+ T cells, and leaves them vulnerable to all sorts of infections that they were previously protected against. HIV can also lead to a dangerous condition known as AIDS, which stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
HIV, being a sexually transmitted infection, spreads through unprotected sexual contact. To understand HIV better, it is worth taking the time out to read more about the causative agent, the symptoms of the disease, and how it is diagnosed and managed.
IS HIV AN STD?
As mentioned before, HIV is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus. This virus makes its way into a person’s body through unprotected sexual contact. The virus resides in the genital secretions and once inside a person’s body, makes its way to all the tissues to infect lymphocytes.
Lymphocytes are part of the human immune system. These cells constantly scout for pathogens in the body and tag them to be killed by other killer cells. HIV infects these cells and destroys them rapidly so that the infected person’s immune system becomes drastically weak.
HIV can spread through all kinds of sexual activity, including vaginal sex, anal sex, and oral sex. This disease can also infect both male and female. However, the incidence of HIV is generally reported as higher in MSM (males who have sex with other males) than in heterosexual couples.
Once infected with HIV, a person may not even feel any different for several days, even several weeks or months in some cases. This is because there is an initial asymptomatic stage of HIV infection. Once symptoms appear they may resemble those of a common cold. These symptoms may include a runny nose, hay fever, itchy eyes, and a generalized body ache and fever.
The initial asymptomatic stage of HIV along with non-specific symptoms amount for a large number of people with HIV who go undiagnosed for several months and even years. Most HIV patients only present to the clinic when they develop repeat infections in a short period of time or if they develop any dangerous symptoms.
Once the disease progresses, however, the infection may turn into something more drastic. Symptoms like generalized bleeding may appear and the person may become vulnerable to many infections that they were previously protected against by their immune system.
HOW IS HIV DIAGNOSED?
Several blood tests are useful in the diagnosis of HIV. These tests are either antibody tests, antigen/antibody tests, or nucleic acid tests (NATs).
Antibody tests for HIV are used to detect the antibodies produced in a patient’s blood against the invading virus. These antibodies are produced by the circulating lymphocytes in an attempt to subdue the virus. While these antibodies are not enough to completely eliminate the virus from the body, they are an accurate representation of someone’s HIV status. These tests usually take 23 to 90 days since the onset of infection to give an accurate estimation of a person’s HIV status.
Antigen/antibody tests, as the name suggests, detect both the antigens of the virus and the antibodies produced in response to it. These tests provide an accurate result after 18 to 45 days of the onset of infection.
Nucleic acid tests, or NATs for short, detect viral RNA in the human body. NATs provide an accurate estimation of someone’s HIV status after 10 to 33 days of infection.
CAN HIV BE TREATED?
Like most sexually transmitted infections caused by viruses, HIV cannot be completely cured. This is because the virus causing this disease is very good at hiding from the body’s immune system while simultaneously destroying it.
While it may not be curable, HIV is certainly treatable. People with HIV can have a completely normal lifespan if they take proper medications regularly. These medications are part of the ART regime, which stands for anti-retroviral therapy. ART drugs are antiviral drugs which are helpful in destroying viral particles in the blood. These drugs bring the viral load of a person down to a negligible level, which indicates that the person is not infective and will experience minimal disruptions in their daily life due to their disease.