Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a viral infection transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. AIDS is the most advanced stage of the HIV infection. An estimated 1,185,000 people in the United States are infected with AIDS, and more than 25 million people have died from the worldwide pandemic since 1981.
With HIV, the immune system deteriorates to a point where the body is unable to ward off disease or infection. Having HIV does not always mean that you have AIDS, but those infected with the HIV virus must adhere to a strict medicinal regimen to help keep the virus at bay. There is no cure for HIV, but modern medicine enables those infected to maintain their health and still live a long life.
Initial symptoms, known as the primary or acute HIV infection, include:
- Swollen lymph glands
Advanced HIV symptoms include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
If you are sexually active, it is extremely important to get tested for HIV.
"Anytime you have unprotected intercourse, you've got to get tested. Even with protected intercourse, if you've had multiple partners, you should be tested," OB-GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson says.
Testing for HIV has never been easier. The OraQuick HIV Test by OraSure is often used by healthcare professionals to rapidly diagnose the virus via an an oral swab test. The swab is placed in a test tube solution and results are given in just 20 minutes.
If you elect to get tested at a hospital or certified testing facility, two different HIV tests may be available, depending on the state in which it's administered. The first is a confidential test, but patients still must provide personal information such as name, date of birth and social security number.
"Confidential [HIV testing], just like our records in the hospital, are confidential, meaning that your name is there and somebody could have access," Dr. Lisa says. "But the person [testing] is assuring you that it will be confidential and it will be kept secretive."
The second option is to take an anonymous HIV test, which allows a person to be identified by a number rather than his or her name. Check with your healthcare provider to find out what testing options are available in your area.
Although there is no cure for HIV, modern treatments employ a list of drugs to help keep HIV from progressing into AIDS. The combination of drugs must be taken on a strict schedule to help prevent the virus from replicating. ER physician Dr. Travis Stork explains how the drugs work.
Dr. Travis says there are some post-exposure prevention programs available for HIV, though they are not 100 percent effective. Make sure to consult your doctor for more information.
Proper use of condoms during intercourse can provide 90 percent protection against HIV and STDs. Latex condoms provide the best protection. Condoms made from polyurethane material are the best alternative for those with latex allergies, but protection is not as good as the latex. Natural and lamb skin condoms do not provide any protection from disease.
“The only thing you’re going to be able to protect yourself against [STDs] with is a male condom or the female condom,” Dr. Lisa says. “Take control of your life, because it’s your life you’re dealing with.”
In addition to lifestyle habits that can reduce the risk of transmission, viral specialist Dr. Jorge Rodriguez says that the FDA recently approved a medication, commonly used to treat HIV patients, which now also can be used for individuals who are at high risk for contracting the dangerous disease. Learn more about PrEP and how it is being used to help stop the spread of the deadly disease.