The Facts About HIV
By: Silvia DiPaola, Contributing Writer
Edited by: Fauzia Haque, Editor; Eve Nevelos, Editor in Chief
Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is a fairly recent medical discovery. It originated in central Africa in the 1920s and still plagues humanity to this day. It directly targets the body’s immune cells, and it eventually leads to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) if left untreated. However, not all hope is lost. With the proper medical care, HIV can be controlled in an individual.
The history of HIV has been seen in the last 90 years. HIV infection in humans was first discovered in a Central African chimpanzee; humans hunted these chimps for meat and thus came into contact with their contaminated blood. The chimpanzee variant of the virus (named Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, or SIV) was likely transmitted to humans this way, according to the Mayo Clinic. The virus has been known to exist in the United States in particular since the mid to late 1970s.
HIV functions by directly targeting your immune system. It destroys a type of white blood cell (called a T-cell) that helps your body fight infections. HIV is spread by contact with specific bodily fluids (blood and sexual fluids, NOT through saliva, sweat, tears, urine, or feces) from a person with HIV. The most common methods of transmission include unprotected sex and through sharing drug injection equipment. It is equally important to be aware of how HIV does not spread. According to the Mayo Clinic, one cannot become infected with HIV or AIDS through ordinary contact like hugging, kissing, dancing, or shaking hands. It is also not spread through the air, water, or through insect bites.
As stated by HIV.gov, some individuals may have symptoms caused by HIV, but some may never experience any symptoms until they are in the final stages of the virus. Symptoms of HIV include fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and mouth ulcers. Some may be asymptomatic, but this does not mean they do not have HIV. These symptoms can be associated with other illnesses, so it is important to get tested for HIV specifically if you have these symptoms. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested for it.
According to the CDC, there are 3 stages of HIV. Stage 1 is known as acute HIV infection. Afflicted individuals will have a large amount of HIV in their blood and are very contagious. Only antigen tests can diagnose acute infections at this point. Stage 2 is known as chronic HIV infection. HIV is still active in the body, but it reproduces at low levels. People may still not have any symptoms of HIV, but they can still transmit it. Stage 3 is known as AIDS, which is the most severe phase of HIV infection. Not everyone will enter this stage, especially with proper treatment. In fact, it can take decades to reach stage 3. At this point, a person’s immune system is badly damaged, they have a high HIV blood count, and they are very infectious. They will be at a serious risk for deadly infections and cancers. Those with AIDS will survive for about three years without treatment.
There is no cure for HIV, so once you are diagnosed, you will have it for life. However, medicines for HIV do exist. According to HIV.gov, the main treatment is antiretroviral therapy (ART). It can help people with HIV live long, healthy lives and prevent them from transmitting HIV to their sexual partner. It prevents HIV from progressing into the later stages. There are also some ways to prevent one from getting HIV after sex or drug use; these include pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) drugs. According to MedlinePlus, you can also reduce your risk of contracting/spreading HIV by getting tested, choosing less risky behaviors (like unprotected sex and drug use), and getting tested for STDS.
Overall, an HIV diagnosis does not have to be debilitating, but it can spiral into something much worse (i.e. AIDS) if one fails to take their proper medications. It is best to avoid risky behaviors related to sex and drug use in order to reduce your chances of contracting HIV!
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