A Better Understanding of HIV
An HIV diagnosis can be a frightening ordeal for many people, but there are several ways to help control the virus. Keeping the virus under control has allowed many people to still live long, fulfilling lives. Understanding how the virus functions and learning about the different ways to prevent it from doing serious harm to the body may help certain people cope better with living with the condition.
What is HIV?
Also known as the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV attacks the body’s T cells that make up the immune system. A virus will essentially latch onto one of the cells and create copies of itself before destroying the cell and moving on to the next target. These copies of the virus also attack cells of the immune system, which can make it impossible for a person to fight off disease and infection. A person is considered to have AIDS when the T cell count drops below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood.
HIV is transmitted through certain bodily fluids. Semen and vaginal fluids can spread the virus to another person through sexual contact. A person who comes into contact with blood containing HIV through sexual contact or sharing needles may also be at risk for catching the virus. Breastmilk passed from an HIV-positive mother to her child through breastfeeding is another transmission route.
A person can carry HIV for years and not have any symptoms. When signs of infection do start to develop, they often include fever, fatigue and skin rashes. Some people also report that they feel as though they have the flu within the first two to four weeks of becoming infected. Other symptoms of having HIV include:
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Mouth sores
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
There are a few different kinds of tests that can be used to make an HIV diagnosis. A blood or saliva sample can be taken for an antibody test, which looks for certain antibodies specific to HIV that the body creates in an attempt to fight off the infection. RNA testing is able to detect the virus itself in a blood sample and often produces more accurate results than an antibody test.
Although there is no cure yet for HIV, there are many treatment options that can slow the virus’s progress or stop it altogether. A regimen of antiviral drugs can be prescribed by a doctor. Many of these medications will need to be taken every day at specific times in order to keep the virus in check and prevent it from mutating and becoming immune to the drugs. Some of these medications have unpleasant side effects, and additional drugs are often prescribed to combat these problems. Researchers hope to develop a vaccine in the near future that will prevent HIV infection.
One of the best ways to prevent HIV is to us a condom or some other type of latex barrier during sexual intercourse, but this method is not entirely foolproof. Although it is rare to become infected through kissing, the virus could be transmitted if there are any open cuts or sores that come into contact with blood. It is also advisable to never share needles with anyone. Mothers who are HIV-positive should opt to feed their babies formula instead of breastmilk.
Fortunately, there is hope for people living with HIV. Until a cure is found, people can explore different treatments that are known to be effective. There are also preventative measures that can be taken to keep a person from contracting the virus.