1.2 million people are living with HIV in America with approximately 13% of them not knowing they are infected. According to the CDC, 1 in 99 Americans will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. There is no cure for HIV although with proper medical treatment, it can be control and prevented from becoming a serious, life-altering condition. Yet it remains the 8th leading cause of death for 25-34 year olds, 9th leading cause of death for 35-44 year olds and 10th leading cause of death for 45-54 year olds.
Causes of HIV
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is commonly transmitted through vaginal sex, anal sex, and through the sharing of needles, usually for drug use. Currently the most advanced test HIV is known as an early detection test. This early detection test can detect the presence of HIV just 6-12 days after exposure versus older methods that could take upto 3 months for detection of HIV.
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How is HIV Transmitted?
HIV can only be transmitted from person to person through the exchange of bodily fluids such as:
- semen (cum)
- pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum)
- rectal fluids
- vaginal fluids
- breast milk
When these fluids come in contact with a mucus membrane or damaged tissue, the virus can enter the body. Anal sex is the highest risk behavior for transmitting HIV while vaginal sex is close second. The other most common method of transmitting HIV is through the sharing of needles. HIV can live in an unused needle for up to 42 days.
Less commonly HIV is transmitted through oral sex, blood transfusions, blood to blood contact during accidents or fights.
What Are the Symptoms of HIV?
There are three stages to HIV each with their own symptoms, Acute, Clinical Latency and AIDS.
Within 2 to 4 weeks after infection with HIV, people may experience a flu-like illness, which may last for a few weeks. This is the body’s natural response to infection. When people have acute HIV infection, they have a large amount of virus in their blood and are very contagious. But people with acute infection are often unaware that they’re infected because they may not feel sick right away or at all. To know whether someone has acute infection, either a fourth-generation antibody/antigen test or a nucleic acid (NAT) test is necessary.
This period is sometimes called asymptomatic HIV infection or chronic HIV infection. During this phase, HIV is still active but reproduces at very low levels. People may not have any symptoms or get sick during this time. For people who aren’t taking medicine to treat HIV, this period can last a decade or longer, but some may progress through this phase faster. People who are taking medicine to treat HIV (ART) the right way, every day may be in this stage for several decades. It’s important to remember that people can still transmit HIV to others during this phase, although people who are on ART and stay virally suppressed (having a very low level of virus in their blood) are much less likely to transmit HIV than those who are not virally suppressed.
AIDS is 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 illnesses.
Without treatment, people with AIDS typically survive about 3 years. Common symptoms of AIDS include chills, fever, sweats, swollen lymph glands, weakness, and weight loss. People are diagnosed with AIDS when their CD4 cell count drops below 200 cells/mm or if they develop certain opportunistic illnesses. People with AIDS can have a high viral load and be very infectious.
How is HIV Treated?
No effective cure currently exists for HIV. But with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. Treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. If taken the right way, every day, ART can dramatically prolong the lives of many people infected with HIV, keep them healthy, and greatly lower their chance of infecting others. Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with HIV could progress to AIDS (the last stage of HIV infection) in a few years. Today, someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can live nearly as long as someone who does not have HIV.
How Does a HIV Test Work?
Through a blood sample, our fourth-generation HIV test tests for both antibodies and antigen. This is the most current HIV test available and the only test that can detect HIV during the Acute phase.
How Soon After Exposure Can I Get Tested?
With our 4th Generation antibody and antigen test we are able to detect the acute phase of the infection.
Antigens are foreign substances that cause your immune system to activate. The antigen is part of the virus itself and is present during acute HIV infection (the phase of infection right after people are infected but before they develop antibodies to HIV).
Most, but not all people, will make enough antigens and antibodies for fourth-generation or combination tests to accurately detect infection 2 to 6 weeks (13 to 42 days) after infection.
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