Today we’re going to talk about a very important topic. And that topic is HIV and AIDS. Human immunodeficiency virus or HIV is one of the incurable STI or Sexually Transmitted Infection. While some of these STIs are easy to treat once identified, others like HIV have no cure. Once you are infected, you have the virus for life. That’s why it’s so incredibly important to practice safe sex in order to avoid contracting sexually transmitted infections.
An HIV test is a simple way to see if you have been infected with the virus – but more on that later. First, let’s take a look at how HIV works. It is passed from one person to another through blood, semen, pre-seminal fluids, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breast milk. Once contracted, it attacks important cells in your immune system called CD4 cells or T cells.
These cells help your body fight off infections and infection-related cancers. So as HIV destroys them, it becomes easier for you to get sick or even die from common illnesses. If left untreated and the number of CD4 cells falls below a certain threshold, HIV progresses to its final stage – acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS.
At this point, the immune system is so destroyed that you get more and more severe illnesses known as opportunistic infections. People with AIDS who don’t get treatment often don’t survive more than three years.
In the 80s, an outbreak of HIV spread across the world creating one of the most deadly epidemics. Since then, over 77 million people have become infected with HIV and over 35 million have died from AIDS-related illnesses. But after a lot of research and studies, scientists developed medicines for the treatment of HIV, called antiretroviral therapy or ART, that lower the amount of HIV in the body – though again, there is no way to get rid of it completely. But these medicines allow those who take it to live for nearly as long as someone who does not have HIV and has been shown to prevent infections in sexual partners.
Scientists have also developed ways to prevent HIV infection from occurring in the first place. In addition to barriers like condoms and dental dams, there is a daily pill called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP for those at high risk for HIV that can be taken to reduce the chance of contracting it from sex by over 90%. Because early symptoms of HIV resemble the flu, followed by a long period of latency, the only way to know for sure if you have become infected and to keep you and your partners safe is by getting tested.
HIV tests work by detecting either antibodies – which are used by your body to fight off infections – or antigens – which are part of the virus. These usually can be detected starting three months after exposure, but more advanced tests can be performed if someone had a high-risk exposure or are displaying early symptoms of HIV. Getting tested is the only way to know your HIV status.
If you are HIV-positive, you can start getting treated, which can improve your health, prolong your life, and greatly lower your chance of spreading HIV to others. Tests are confidential, quick, easy and sometimes even free. They are performed using an oral swab or blood sample and can be administered by a health care professional or through at-home testing kits. Results from rapid or certain at-home tests can be ready in as little as 20 minutes.