HIV is a virus that damages the immune system. Untreated HIV affects and kills CD4 cells, which are a type of immune cell called T cell. Over time, as HIV kills more CD4 cells, the body is more likely to get various types of conditions and cancers.
How is it spread?
HIV is spread through bodily fluids that include:
- vaginal and rectal fluids
- breast milk
The virus isn’t transferred in air or water, or through casual contact. Because HIV inserts itself into the DNA of cells, it’s a lifelong condition and currently, there’s no drug that eliminates HIV from the body, although many scientists are working to find one.
However, with medical care, including a treatment called antiretroviral therapy, it’s possible to manage HIV and live with the virus for many years. Without treatment, a person with HIV is likely to develop a serious condition called the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, known as AIDS.
At that point, the immune system is too weak to successfully respond against other diseases, infections, and conditions.
How do you know that you are positive?
The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. You can’t rely on symptoms to tell whether you have HIV. Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information so you can take steps to keep yourself and your partner(s) healthy.
Symptoms of the disease
Within 2 to 4 weeks after infection with HIV, about two-thirds of people will have a flu-like illness. This is the body’s natural response to HIV infection. This is the first stage of the disease also known as the acute stage. Flu-like symptoms can include:
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth ulcers
These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. But some people do not have any symptoms at all during this early stage of HIV. Don’t assume you have HIV just because you have any of these symptoms, they can be similar to those caused by other illnesses. If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, get an HIV test. Here’s what to do:
- Find an HIV testing site near you
- Request an HIV test for recent infection
- Know your status
Is rash a symptom of HIV?
Many people with HIV experience changes to their skin. A rash is often one of the first symptoms of an HIV infection. Generally, an HIV rash appears as multiple small red lesions that are flat and raised.
Rash related to HIV
HIV makes someone more susceptible to skin problems because the virus destroys immune system cells that take measures against infection. Co-infections that can cause rash include:
The cause of the rash determines:
- how it looks
- how long it lasts
- how it can be treated depends on the cause
Treatment options for HIV
Treatment should begin as soon as possible after a diagnosis of HIV, regardless of viral load. The main treatment for HIV is antiretroviral therapy, a combination of daily medications that stop the virus from reproducing. This helps protect CD4 cells, keeping the immune system strong enough to take measures against the disease.
Antiretroviral therapy helps keep HIV from progressing to AIDS. It also helps reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others. When treatment is effective, the viral load will be “undetectable.” The person still has HIV, but the virus is not visible in the test results. However, the virus is still in the body. And if that person stops taking antiretroviral therapy, the viral load will increase again, and the HIV can again start attacking CD4 cells.
Although many researchers are working to develop one, there’s currently no vaccine available to prevent the transmission of HIV. However, taking certain steps can help prevent the transmission of HIV.
- Get tested for HIV. It’s important they learn their status and that of their partner.
- Get tested for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If they test positive for one, they should get it treated, because having an STI increases the risk of contracting HIV.
- Use condoms. They should learn the correct way to use condoms and use them every time they have sex, whether it’s through vaginal or anal intercourse. It’s important to keep in mind that pre-seminal fluids (which come out before male ejaculation) can contain HIV.
- Take their medications as directed if they have HIV. This lowers the risk of transmitting the virus to their sexual partner.
- Avoid sharing needles or other paraphernalia.HIV is transmitted through blood and can be contracted by using materials that have come in contact with the blood of someone who has HIV.
- Consider PEP. A person who has been exposed to HIV should contact their healthcare provider about obtaining post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP can reduce the risk of contracting HIV. It consists of three antiretroviral medications given for 28 days. PEP should be started as soon as possible after exposure but before 36 to 72 hours have passed.
- Consider PrEP. A person who has a higher chance of contracting HIV (for example, those who are health practitioners and come in contact with body fluids, a person who suspects that their partner might have other sex partners) should talk to their healthcare provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). If taken consistently, it can lower the risk of acquiring HIV. PrEP is a combination of two drugs available in pill form.