HIV or human immunodeficiency virus is a virus that attacks cells that help the body fight infection, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. It is spread by contact with certain bodily fluids from a person with HIV, most commonly during unprotected sex, through sharing of injection needle, contaminated blood transfusion and vertical transmission (from mother to baby) during birth process or breastfeeding. Some bodily fluids, such as saliva, sweat and tears, do not transmit the virus. HIV also not transmitted via meal or cutleries sharing, hugging or shaking hands.
Following initial infection a person may not have any symptoms or may experience a brief period of flu-like illness, called acute retroviral syndrome (ARS) or acute seroconversion syndrome. It thought to occur in up to 80% of patients who newly acquire the virus and typically occurs 10–14 days after exposure.
Symptoms of acute seroconversion can be non-specific and may mimic various other viral illnesses such as fever, rash, malaise, headache, joint and muscle pain, sore throat and enlarged lymph nodes. It usually lasted for about a week and resolved on its own and often goes unrecognised by both patient and doctor. Most of these symptoms are the result of the body’s immune response to HIV as it rapidly spreads from the site of infection to lymph tissue, triggering an inflammatory response.
After that, there is usually prolonged period with no symptoms. HIV infection continue to progresses and interefere with immune system causing an individual to have increase risk of developing infection like TB, opportunistic infections and cancer which are rare in individual with normal immune system. This can take over months and years undetected, so called chronic HIV infection. Without ART treatment, HIV-infected individual progress to develop the late or advanced stage of HIV infection referred to as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS.
Symptoms of AIDS include rapid weight loss, generalized weakness, recurring fever and night sweat, generalized lymph node swelling in the armpits, neck and groin area, painful throat with difficulty swallowing, persistent diarrhoea, incessant dry cough, difficulty breathing, headache, memory loss, seizure, depression and coma. At this stage, depending on the number of CD4 count, a person is at high risk of various opportunistic infections such as Candidiasis, CMV, Toxoplasmosis, Cryptococcus, Pneumocystis and many more. There are also risk of cancers such Kaposi's sarcoma, lymphoma, cervical cancer and various cancers of the mouth, throat, liver, lung, and anus.
It is important to detect early HIV infection and initiate ART treatment as not only to avoid spreading HIV to others but to prevent irreversible damage to immune system and to prolong life expectancy and quality of life. This is why testing for HIV is very important and to be done regularly. The only surest way to tell whether you have HIV infection or not is by doing the testing.
The most common and reliable testing for HIV being used now is the 4th Generation Ag/Ab testing that can reliably detect the virus as soon as 1 month after exposure and deemed as conclusive testing. However, as part of the HIV testing protocol, it is advisable to repeat the HIV testing at 3 months and 6 months post-exposure. There is a window period of between day 1 to day 12 post exposure in which no test can conclusively detect it and doing the testing during this period can give a false-negative result. Based on the guidelines, majority of the HIV- infected cases would be detectable conclusively if the test are done after 28 days of exposure.
Prevention of HIV infection include practicing safe sex with condom protection, avoidance of high risk sexual practices such as multiple partners and use of PReP and PEP prophylaxis. Once you are infected with HIV, there is no cure or vaccine available. However, ART can significantly slow the down the course of the disease and with treatment, HIV patient can enjoy healthy life with near-normal life expectancy.
If you are concern with HIV or any STD infections or maybe at risk of HIV infection, talk to our doctor for more information on further testing and treatment available