HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, attacks your immune system, leaving your body vulnerable to infections. AIDS, short for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, is the advanced HIV infection stage when your immune system is severely damaged. HIV primarily spreads through certain bodily fluids, like blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk, when they come into contact with your bloodstream. This can happen through unprotected sex, sharing needles, or during childbirth and breastfeeding by an HIV-positive mother.
HIV has different stages with varying symptoms. In the acute stage, you might experience flu-like symptoms. The clinical latency stage might show no signs, but the virus remains active. At the AIDS stage, you become vulnerable to severe infections and diseases. Getting tested for HIV is essential to know your status. Different tests, such as antigen/antibody and nucleic acid tests (NATs), can detect HIV at different stages.
HIV prevention is crucial, and there are various ways to protect yourself, such as condoms, PrEP, and PEP. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the primary treatment for HIV, controlling the virus's growth and enhancing the immune system. At Suarez Physical Therapy, we offer HIV diagnosis and management services to people living with the virus in Las Vegas. Start your treatment early for better long-term health. Our experts work with patients to select the most appropriate regimen.
An Overview of HIV Disease and AIDS
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, HIV is Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus attacks your immune system, the body's defense against infections. On the other hand, AIDS is short for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, which is the severe stage of HIV infection when your immune system is severely damaged.
What Is HIV?
As mentioned above, HIV is a virus notorious for attacking the cells that combat infections (white blood cells), making you more vulnerable to various illnesses. You are infected with HIV when you come into contact with certain bodily fluids from an infected person, like during unprotected sex or when sharing drug injection equipment.
While there is no known cure for HIV, patients could undergo antiretroviral therapy (ART) to keep the virus in check. With ART, you can reduce the amount of HIV in your blood, keeping it low. When your viral load is so low that labs cannot detect it. When your viral load is undetectable, you cannot pass HIV to your partner during sex.
You can also prevent HIV infection before having sex through drug use, such as Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is like a shield you can take to protect yourself from being infected. After engaging in unprotected sex with someone you suspect is infected, you should visit your doctor within 72 hours of possible exposure for a post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) prescription. PEP will stop the virus from attacking your antibodies.
What Is AIDS?
After HIV has been in your body for a while, it weakens your immune system so much that it cannot engulf infections like it used to. When this happens, you are said to have reached the AIDS stage. You enter the AIDS stage if:
● Your CD4 cell count drops below 200 cells/mm3 (cells per cubic millimeter) of blood. In a healthy person, CD4 counts are usually from 500 to 1,600 cells/mm3.
● You develop one or many AIDS-revealing or opportunistic infections, irrespective of your CD4 count.
Note that you can barely survive past three years when living with AIDS without taking HIV medicine. Also, most people with HIV in the US do not progress to AIDS. When you stick to your treatment plan, the virus does not reach the AIDS stage.
How Is HIV Transmitted?
HIV is primarily transmitted through particular body fluids in an infected person. These fluids include blood, vaginal fluids, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), breast milk, and rectal fluids.
You only contract HIV when these fluids come into direct contact with your bloodstream through mucous membranes, open cuts or sores, or by direct injection using needles or syringes.
How Is HIV Spread from Person to Person?
The most common ways HIV is spread in the United States are through unprotected sexual contact and sharing injection drug equipment. Having vaginal or anal sex without condoms or preventive HIV medicines increases the risk of transmission. Additionally, sharing needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment containing blood from an HIV-positive individual can lead to transmission.
Less Common HIV Transmission Ways
Perinatal transmission, where an HIV-positive mother transmits the virus to her baby when expectant, during childbirth, or breastfeeding, is another transmission mode. However, the risk of perinatal transmission has been significantly reduced thanks to medical advancements. HIV transmission through needlestick or sharps injuries primarily affects healthcare workers, but the risk is low.
Rare Modes of HIV Transmission
There are extremely rare cases of HIV transmission through oral sex. Although the risk is minimal, it can theoretically occur if an HIV-positive partner ejaculates in their partner's mouth. Factors such as oral ulcers, bleeding gums, or other sexually transmitted infections may increase the risk, but it remains low compared to other sexual activities.
HIV transmission through blood transfusions, blood products, or organ or tissue transplants is also extremely rare nowadays due to rigorous testing and safety measures.
Research has dispelled misconceptions regarding HIV transmission, such as the notion that biting or spitting can spread the virus.
Does HIV Viral Load Affect Getting or Transmitting HIV?
When HIV-positive individuals take antiretroviral therapy (ART) as prescribed, it reduces their viral load, often leading to viral suppression or even an undetectable viral load. Having an undetectable viral load significantly decreases the risk of transmitting HIV to sexual partners.
How Does HIV Not Spread?
HIV is not spread through casual contact, air, water, or insect bites. It cannot be transmitted through saliva, tears, sweat, feces, or urine unless mixed with an HIV-positive person's blood.
Engaging in daily activities like shaking hands, hugging, using toilets, or sharing dishes and utensils with someone with HIV does not pose a risk of transmission. HIV cannot pass through healthy, unbroken skin, making transmission through non-sexual physical contact highly unlikely.
Signs and Symptoms of HIV
HIV has different stages, and symptoms can vary based on the patient and the stage of the disease they are in. The symptoms in each stage include:
Stage 1 - Acute HIV Infection
During this stage, which happens approximately four weeks after HIV infection, around two-thirds of people might experience flu-like symptoms. This is because the body is reacting to the virus. These symptoms can include:
● Mouth ulcers.
● Muscle aches.
● Night sweats.
● Sore throat.
● Swollen lymph nodes.
Some people may not have any symptoms at all during this phase. Do not jump to conclusions if you experience flu-like symptoms. They could be due to other illnesses too. The best way to know if it is HIV is to undergo a test.
Stage 2. Clinical Latency
The virus is still multiplying in the clinical latency stage, but at lower levels. Interestingly, patients in this phase might not feel sick or show symptoms. This stage can last 10 to 15 years without treatment, although some progress faster.
However, you should monitor your viral load. If it is detectable, you can still transmit HIV, even without symptoms. Regular checkups with your healthcare provider can make all the difference.
Stage 3: AIDS
AIDS is the final HIV infection stage. If you have HIV and are not on treatment, the virus will weaken your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to various infections. Symptoms of AIDS can be severe and include:
● Rapid weight loss,
● Recurring fever or night sweats,
● Extreme tiredness,
● Prolonged swelling of lymph glands,
● Persistent diarrhea,
● Sores in the mouth or genitals,
● Neurologic disorders like memory loss and depression.
Symptoms at this stage result from AIDS-defining or opportunistic infections, including tuberculosis, candidiasis, and the herpes simplex virus, due to your weakened immune system. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.
Diagnosing HIV and AIDs
Knowing your HIV status is essential. There are various ways to test for HIV discreetly. You can choose between a blood test and a saliva test. The testing process is simple, whether at home, in a healthcare facility, or at a community testing location.
If your test results return negative, you are okay if you have not had any potential exposures within the past three months (also known as the window period). This period is when the virus may not be detectable yet, usually lasting around 90 days. However, if exposure occurred within three months of testing, consider retesting to confirm the negative result.
If the test result is positive, follow-up tests will be conducted to confirm the diagnosis and provide the necessary support.
Different Types of HIV Tests
There are several types of HIV tests available, each with its own unique approach to detecting the virus:
These tests identify specific markers called p24 on the HIV's surface and search for the body's reaction chemicals called antibodies. Some tests combine both methods, increasing accuracy.
For quicker results, a finger prick is performed, but it might take up to 90 days after exposure for the most accurate results. These tests can be done through a blood draw from your arm or a finger prick. Alternatively, saliva collected using a stick rubbed on your gums can also be used. The detection timeframe for antibody tests may take 23 to 90 days after exposure, and the collection method can impact the timing of results.
Nucleic acid tests (NATs)
These tests directly look for HIV in your blood, detecting it earlier, usually between 10 and 33 days after exposure. They are often used in high-risk exposure situations.
At-Home Tests For HIV
For privacy and convenience, at-home HIV test kits are available. There are two types: rapid tests and those requiring a blood sample sent to a lab.
Rapid tests involve using a soft, flexible-tip stick to rub your gums, and the results appear in just 15 to 20 minutes. In the event of a positive result, further testing with a healthcare provider is essential to confirm the diagnosis.
Alternatively, you can use a device to prick your finger, place a drop of blood on a card, and send it to a lab for analysis. Although results may take longer, the method offers discretion and convenience.
Anyone can be at risk, regardless of age, race, sex, or sexual orientation. One significant risk factor is unprotected sex. You want to use a new latex or polyurethane condom whenever you have sex. Research shows that anal sex is riskier than vaginal sex, and having multiple sexual partners can also increase your HIV risk.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are another concern. If you have an STI, it can cause open sores on your genitals, providing an entryway for HIV to enter your body. So, it's essential to take care of your sexual health.
Be cautious with illicit injection drug use. Sharing needles and syringes while using drugs can expose you to other people's blood, increasing the risk of HIV transmission.
When HIV weakens your immune system, it opens the door to various infections and cancers. Here are some of the most common ones:
Infections common to HIV/AIDS
1. Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP): This fungal infection can cause severe illness, especially in people with weakened immune systems.
2. Candidiasis (thrush): An HIV-related infection that leads to inflammation and a thick, white coating on your mouth, tongue, esophagus, or vagina.
3. Tuberculosis (TB): An opportunistic infection often associated with HIV. In some regions, TB remains a leading cause of death among people with AIDS.
4. Cytomegalovirus: This common herpes virus can become active when your immune system weakens. It may cause damage to your eyes, digestive tract, lungs, or other organs.
5. Cryptococcal meningitis: A central nervous system infection caused by a fungus found in soil. Awareness of this risk is essential, especially if your immune system is compromised.
6. Toxoplasmosis: A potentially deadly infection caused by a parasite commonly found in cats. Take extra precautions if you have cats as pets to avoid this infection.
Cancers common to HIV/AIDS
1. Lymphoma: This cancer originates in white blood cells and can cause painless swelling of lymph nodes in various areas of your body.
2. Kaposi's sarcoma: A tumor of the blood vessel walls, often appearing as pink, red, or purple lesions on the skin and mouth. It can be a visually noticeable sign of HIV/AIDS.
3. HPV-related cancers: Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection can lead to anal, oral, and cervical cancers.
Can HIV infection Be Prevented?
HIV prevention is a critical aspect of public health, and fortunately, today, we have more tools than ever to protect ourselves and others from HIV infection. From practicing safe sex to using preventive medications, the options available can significantly reduce the risk of contracting the virus.
Protect Yourself During Sex
Sexual activities carry a risk of HIV transmission, but there are ways to protect yourself. Understanding your HIV risk and taking the necessary precautions can make a significant difference. Choose sexual activities with a lower risk, such as oral sex, that have little to no chance of transmitting HIV.
Experts say that condoms are effective in preventing not only HIV but also other infectious diseases like gonorrhea and chlamydia. Using condoms correctly and consistently during every sexual encounter is essential for maximum protection. Use water- or silicone-based lubricants to prevent condom breakage or slipping.
Protect Others If You Have HIV
If you have HIV, you can take steps to prevent transmitting the virus to others. Seeking medical care and adhering to antiretroviral therapy (ART) can significantly reduce your viral load, making it less likely to transmit HIV through sexual contact. Achieving an undetectable viral load greatly minimizes the risk of transmission.
Encouraging your partner to seek and maintain HIV treatment is crucial for their well-being and prevents transmission. If your partner consistently follows the prescribed HIV medicine and achieves an undetectable viral load, the risk of HIV transmission through sex becomes negligible.
Protect Yourself If You Inject Drugs
Injecting drugs can increase the risk of HIV transmission, but there are ways to protect yourself and reduce harm. Never share needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment. Many communities have syringe service programs (SSPs) where you can access clean needles and safely dispose of used ones. Additionally, consider PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to further protect yourself.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), condoms provide a strong barrier against HIV and certain other STDs, making them a valuable tool for protecting yourself during sexual encounters. Whether you use external condoms (male condoms) or internal condoms (female condoms), ensure you follow the correct usage instructions for maximum effectiveness.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a groundbreaking HIV prevention method. It involves taking medication regularly to lower the risk of contracting HIV. When taken as directed, PrEP can be highly effective in preventing HIV from both sexual activities and injection drug use.
Prevent Perinatal Transmission
Preventing the transmission of HIV from mother to child during pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding is crucial. Timely HIV testing and appropriate medication during pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of transmission.
With proper treatment and an undetectable viral load, the chances of transmitting HIV to the baby are less than 1%. Post-delivery, choosing safe feeding methods further reduces the risk of transmission.
PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is a preventive medication after a potential HIV exposure. It must be started within 72 hours of exposure for maximum effectiveness. PEP is not a substitute for regular HIV prevention methods. It should be used only in emergencies when there has been a potential exposure to HIV, such as a condom break or sharing needles. The sooner PEP is started, the better, as every hour reduces the risk of infection.
HIV/AIDS Treatment and Management
Major HIV treatment is known as antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART consists of taking a combination of HIV medicines and forming an HIV treatment regimen daily. This treatment cannot cure HIV, but it significantly enhances the quality of life for those living with it. By effectively controlling the virus's replication, ART allows people with HIV to lead longer and healthier lives. It also reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
How do HIV Medicines Work?
HIV medicines target the virus in different ways, helping to control its growth and replication. HIV attacks the immune system's infection-fighting CD4 cells, making it challenging for the body to defend itself against infections and certain HIV-related cancers.
The medications used in ART prevent HIV from multiplying, which leads to a decrease in the amount of HIV in the body, known as the viral load. This decrease in viral load allows the immune system to recover and produce more CD4 cells, ultimately strengthening the body's ability to battle infections and cancers associated with HIV.
When is it Time to Start Taking HIV Medicines?
Starting HIV medicines as soon as possible after an HIV diagnosis is crucial. The earlier treatment is initiated, the better it is for the long-term health of individuals with HIV. For those with AIDS-defining conditions or early HIV infection (within the first six months of contracting the virus), immediate treatment is vital. Additionally, pregnant women with HIV who are not already on HIV medicines should begin treatment as soon as possible to protect their and their baby's health.
What HIV Medicines Are Included In An HIV Treatment Regimen?
HIV medicines belong to seven different drug classes, each functioning in distinct ways to combat the virus. The choice of an HIV treatment regimen depends on an individual's specific needs, and it's a collaborative decision-making process between the person with HIV and their healthcare provider.
The seven classes of HIV medicines are:
● CCR5 Antagonists.
● Fusion Inhibitors.
● Integrase Strand Transfer Inhibitors (INSTIs).
● Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs).
● Post-Attachment Inhibitors.
● Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs).
● Protease Inhibitors (PIs).
Based on factors such as potential side effects and drug interactions, healthcare providers work closely with their patients to select the most appropriate HIV treatment regimen.
Find a Physical Therapist Near Me
HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and can progress to AIDS if left untreated. However, various ways exist to prevent, diagnose, and manage HIV. Timely diagnosis is crucial for early intervention and improved outcomes. Different testing options include antigen/antibody tests, antibody tests, and nucleic acid tests, and at-home HIV test kits offer privacy and convenience.
For those living with HIV, antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the standard of care. ART works by suppressing the virus, reducing the viral load, and allowing the immune system to recover. It is advisable to begin treatment early to enhance long-term health and reduce the risk of transmission.
If you suspect you may have been exposed to HIV or need support managing the condition in Las Vegas, seek medical attention promptly. Regular HIV testing and early intervention can make a significant difference in managing the virus and improving overall well-being. At Suarez Physical Therapy, we work towards a world where HIV is no longer a threat and everyone can live a healthy, stigma-free life. Call us at 702-368-6778 today.