What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) may cause immune system disease called AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV is different from other STDs because it is not only sexually transmitted, but it can be transmitted in many other ways, such as:
- Contaminated blood transfusions and hypodermic needles
- Exchange between mother and baby during pregnancy
- Childbirth, and breastfeeding
- Can be transmitted by any contact of mucous membranes, the bloodstream and with bodily fluids that have the virus in it.
This is why HIV is actively spreading and makes a major health problem in many parts of the world, so it is considered a pandemic.
Within a few weeks of being infected with HIV, some people develop flu-like symptoms that last for a week or two, but others have no symptoms at all.
AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection. This disease breaks down a person’s immune system, so it no longer functions as it should. It makes the body more susceptible to all kinds of infections and will lead to many diseases including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and cancer.
How is HIV (AIDS) tested?
To get tested you will see a doctor or health care worker in private, as this test is always strictly confidential. Normally a small sample of blood will be taken from your arm and will be sent to a laboratory and tested. Oral tests are also available which do not require the use of needles.
Sometimes you will have to make a second appointment to get your results, as many doctors prefer to give test results in person.
Testing for antibodies is the most appropriate test for routine diagnosis of HIV among adults. Antibody tests are inexpensive and very accurate. The ELISA antibody test also known as EIA (enzyme immunoassay) was the first HIV test to be widely used. When a person is infected with HIV, their body responds by producing special proteins that fight infection, called antibodies. An HIV antibody test looks for these antibodies in blood, saliva or urine. If antibodies to HIV are detected, it means a person has been infected with HIV.
People with positive or indeterminate (unclear or unreadable) results will always be asked to make a face-to-face appointment so they can receive counseling from a trained professional.
How is AIDS treated?
At this time, there is no cure for HIV infection, however, current medications can dramatically improve the health of people living with HIV and slow progression from HIV infection to AIDS.
Before the development of these medications, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Currently, people can live much longer – even decades – with HIV before they develop AIDS. This is because of “highly active” combinations of drugs that were developed.
These medications can limit or slow down the destruction of the immune system, improve the health of people living with HIV, and may reduce their ability to transmit HIV. Existing treatments need to be taken daily for the rest of a person’s life, need to be carefully monitored, and they can be quite costly and may have potential side effects.