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Everything You Need to Know About HIV
HIV, also known as, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. The HIV virus breaks down specific cells in the immune system. Once the immune system is damaged, it becomes easier for those with HIV to become sick. In some instances, these individuals can die from infections that the body of an average person would be able to fight off.
If HIV isn’t treated, it’s possible that it can turn into AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. AIDS is a disease that results from damage to the immune system left by the HIV virus.
HIV and AIDS are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. It’s also important to keep in mind that not everyone who has HIV will get AIDS. But those who are exposed to HIV will have it for the rest of their lives. However, medications can help manage the symptoms associated with HIV and many people go on to live healthy lives. Read on to learn options to test for HIV, current treatment options, and prevention tips.
Testing for HIV
There are currently three types of tests available to determine whether someone has been infected with HIV.
The Nucleic Acid test looks for the virus in a person’s blood. To do this, blood will need to be drawn from the vein. This test is commonly used to either tell whether a person is showing the presence of HIV or is used as an HIV viral load test for someone already living with HIV, which is used to determine how much virus is present in the blood.
One of the benefits of the Nat test is that it detects HIV a lot sooner than other testing options. However, this particular test is expensive to conduct. For this reason, it’s not typically used for routine screenings unless:
- The individual has recently had a high-risk exposure
- An individual was possibly exposed and has early signs of HIV
This test specifically looks for HIV antibodies and antigens. Antibodies are produced by the immune system when a person has been exposed to the virus. Antigens are foreign substances that activate your immune system. When someone has been exposed to HIV, a certain p24, which is a type of antigen, will be produced, even before the development of antibodies.
Antigen/antibody tests are a common testing option in the U.S. It is also the recommended HIV testing in labs. For an antigen/antibody test to be conducted, the individual’s blood will need to be drawn from the vein. Other antigen/antibody test options include a rapid test, which is done using a finger prick.
Unlike the antigen/antibody test, the antibody test looks for antibodies only in the blood or the antibodies can be found in oral fluid. Generally, antibodies that use blood from the vein will be able to detect HIV sooner after infection than tests with oral fluid or a finger prick.
There is one treatment option available for HIV. This treatment is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). While ART cannot cure HIV, it is recommended for those living with HIV. This treatment involves taking a mix of HIV medicines every day, which can help individuals with HIV to live longer and live healthier lives.
HIV works by attacking and destroying CD4 cells, which are the infection-fighting cells. When a person begins to lose their CD4 cells, it becomes more difficult for the body to combat infections and certain cancers related to HIV.
Antiretroviral therapy is vital for individuals living with HIV because it prevents HIV from making copies of itself, which ultimately reduces the HIV viral load. When an individual has less HIV in their body, it gives the immune system an opportunity to recover and build up CD4 cells.
It’s important to note that some HIV will still be in the body, but the immune system will have built up enough strength to fight off infections and certain cancers related to HIV. In addition to this, since HIV treatment reduces viral load, it can also reduce the risk of transmission.
The goal of HIV treatment isn’t just to improve the health and overall quality of life, it is to reduce the viral load count to a point where it is undetectable. When a viral load is undetectable, this means that the level of HIV in the blood is so low that it cannot be detected using a blood test.
While anyone can get HIV, there are a few precautions you can take to help you prevent HIV exposure. Get tested before engaging in sexual activity with your partner before engaging in sexual activity is important. This ensures that you are not engaging with someone who may have contracted the virus. Use condoms when engaging in sexual activity when used correctly, condoms can be effective in preventing HIV transmission. Therefore, it’s important to use condoms each time you engage in sexual activity.
Limit Your sex partners, the more sex partners you have, the more your chance of HIV increases. With that said, limiting your number of sex partners can reduce your risk of engaging with someone with HIV who has a higher viral load or someone with an STD. These two factors increase a person’s risk of HIV.
Avoid injecting drugs increases your risk of HIV. If you do inject drugs, be sure to only use sterile equipment and water. Additionally, never share your equipment with others to lessen exposure.
Discuss PrEP with Your Healthcare Provider
PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP involves taking a daily pill every day, which reduces the risk of getting HIV through sex or injection drug use. Ultimately, it’s an HIV prevention option for individuals who do not have HIV but are at risk of contracting it.
Those who are at high risk of getting exposed to HIV include sexually active gay men, bisexual men, and transgender women. By taking PrEP, high-risk individuals can lower their risk of testing positive for HIV if the pill is taken daily. In fact, those who take PrEP can reduce their risk of getting HIV through sex by about 99% when taken correctly, according to the CDC.
However, it’s still important to get tested for HIV every 3 months. Additionally, it’s important to wear condoms even while taking this medication, as it doesn’t protect against other sexually transmitted diseases. If you’re interested in PrEP, you can find it at your local Planned Parenthood.
Awareness is the First Step: Visit Our Clinic to Learn more
Anyone can contract HIV. Although incurable, treatment can enable individuals to live healthier, reduce their viral load, and ultimately live a normal life. If you believe you might have been exposed to HIV, it’s important to visit a health care provider as soon as possible to get tested.
With that said, following the appropriate prevention steps plays a key role in reducing your risk of HIV exposure. For this reason, get tested before engaging in sexual activity and practice using condoms. Additionally, limit your sex partners, avoid injecting drugs when possible, and discuss your options for PrEP.
If you would like to learn more information about affordable HIV testing options, treatment, and prevention tips, get in touch with us here. Or, you can visit our clinic to talk with a trusted physician about your options.