HIV is an STD that can affect men and women. It can be spread by having any sexual contact or by sharing needles. It can also be spread from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. If you have another STD, you have a greater risk of getting HIV.
The immune system helps your body fight off infections. HIV attacks the body’s immune system. This makes it easier for a person with HIV to get other infections and infection-related cancers. If left untreated, HIV can destroy enough of the body’s immune system cells that the body can’t fight of infections or disease.
What puts someone at risk for HIV?
- Having sex (anal, oral or vaginal) without a condom
- Having multiple sex partners
- Having anonymous sex partners
- Having sex while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (lowers your inhibitions and increases your risk taking)
Some people may experience flu-like symptoms 2-4 weeks after exposure. These symptoms may include:
- night sweats
- muscle aches
- sore throat
- swollen lymph nodes
- mouth ulcers
These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. These symptoms may be present in the early stage of HIV infection. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. Even if you have these symptoms, that does not mean you have HIV as these symptoms can be associated with other illnesses. If you have these symptoms after a potential exposure to HIV, you should get tested.
HIV testing can be completed by using a drop of blood from a finger prick, a vial of blood from a blood draw or an oral swab. Each have a different timeline of how soon after exposure HIV can be detected.
As HIV is a virus, is cannot be cured. It can be managed through medication. Treating HIV involves taking medication to slow the progression of the virus in your body. HIV is called a retrovirus. The combination of medications used to treat it is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is often a combination of 3 medications. A cure does not currently excited for HIV. ART can help you stay healthy for many years. ART reduces the amount of virus in your body. Healthcare providers recommend ART for all people with HIV regardless of how long they have had HIV or how healthy they are. ART can also reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others, if taken as prescribed. It is important to take ART as prescribed, often at specific times of the day. There may be recommendations of what food to take it with or what food to avoid.
Without treatment, HIV can program from acute infection (stage 1) to HIV dormancy or latency (stage 2) to AIDS (stage 3). AIDS is the most severe stage of HIV. People with AIDS have a very badly damaged immune system to they get more and more severe illness (opportunistic infections). Without treatment, those with AIDS live 3 years on average. People with AIDS have a very high count of the virus in their body, a very low count of illness fighting blood cells and are very infectious.
PrEP and PEP
PrEP is pre-exposure prophylaxis. This may be used for someone who is at very high risk for HIV. This involves daily medication to lower the risk of getting infected. It is highly effective in preventing HIV if used as prescribed, but is much less effective when not taken as prescribed.
PEP is post exposure prophylaxis. This includes taking ART after potentially being exposed to HIV to prevent infection. This is for emergency use only and is started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV.
HIV in Pregnancy
If you have HIV and become pregnant, talk to your health care provider as soon as possible about medical care for you and your baby. If you are already taking ART, you treatment may not change much. Your risk of transitting HIV to your baby can be 1% or less if you continue to take ART as prescribed during pregnancy, labor, delivery and your baby takes ART medication for 4-6 weeks after delivery. Risk of transmission can also be decreased if breastfeeding is avoided and it can be transmitted in breastmilk.