June 27th is National HIV Testing Day. In solidarity, this blog provides information on HIV’s risks factors, symptoms, testing, and treatment.
With all of the health challenges facing American communities today, it seems that HIV Awareness has gradually taken a back seat. Unfortunately, its regression in prominence does not correlate to a dramatic regression in the disease’s prevalence.
HIV is still a large health problem, and the cure for AIDS still proves to be elusive. In 2009, 2.6 million people became infected with HIV worldwide. At the end of 2008, it is estimated that 1.78 million persons aged 13 or older had HIV in the USA. An estimated 50,000 more people are diagnosed with HIV each year in the USA. (See more statistics.)
While those statistics alone are staggering, what makes it worse is that around 20% of those living with HIV have yet to be diagnosed. With such a large subset of those infected with HIV not knowing about their affliction, HIV will continue to be spread in our communities. This is why awareness campaigns like tomorrow’s National HIV Testing Day are so important. For the sake of raising awareness, this blog discusses the risk factors, symptoms, testing methods, and treatments of HIV.
HIV Risks -
As a rule of thumb, HIV is contracted through blood-to-blood contact or sexual contact with an infected individual.
What puts a person at risk?
- Sex. HIV can be contracted by having unprotected sex with an infected individual. Exposure to blood, semen, or vaginal secretions through the skin, rectum, vagina, penis, or mouth puts a person at risk. Practicing safe sex through the use of latex condoms significantly reduces the risk of HIV infection, along with reducing risk of contracting other STDs. The key here is a latex condom – natural or lambskin condoms do not provide effective protection. Unprotected rectal sex is riskier that unprotected vaginal sex. For those who choose to participate in either, it is important to weigh the health risks and make a decision accordingly.
- Needles. Drug injection via needles can put an individual at risk for contracting HIV. Using dirty, previously used needles can lead to contact with the blood from a previous user. Because HIV prevalence is most dense amongst needle-using populations in the USA, use of unsanitary needles is especially unsafe.
- Mother to Child. If a woman infected with HIV is having a child, that child is at risk for contracting HIV. This may occur during the actual birth or during nurture through the consumption of breast milk.
What isn’t a problem?
- Air/Water. Being in the same room as a person with HIV does not pose a risk because HIV cannot be spread through air or water.
- Casual contact. Shaking hands, sharing food, and social kissing does not put a person at risk for contracting HIV. This is because these activities do not generally result in blood-to-blood contact. The same rule applies for exposure to sweat, tears, and saliva.
HIV is a disease that attacks the immune system. Specifically, it kills CD4+ cells, the primary infection fighters of the body. When the immune system has been incapacitated to an extreme degree, HIV infection is classified as AIDS. At this point, the body is extremely vulnerable to infections that, when healthy, pose little risk to our health.
What are symptoms of HIV?
- Primary acute infection. Following infection, a flu-like illness will affect the majority of people within 1 to 2 months. It can last a few weeks, and has symptoms similar to infections including: fever, muscle soreness, rash, headache, sore throat, ulcers, swollen lymph glands, joint pain, night sweats, and diarrhea.
- Clinical Latent Infection. This period refers to the time after initial symptoms but before actual onset of AIDS. During this time, the virus is rapidly replicating and increasing its viral load. There may be no symptoms during this time, but it does not mean a person is not infectious. However, some individuals experience persistent swelling of the lymph nodes. This period typically lasts 8 to 10 years.
- Early symptomatic HIV infection. This is when the disease really starts to impact health significantly. At this point the virus has destroyed many immune cells, leading a person to consistently experience mild infections and chronic symptoms, including fever, fatigue, diarrhea, weight loss and shortness of breath.
- Progression to Aids. Without treatment, HIV turns to AIDS within 10 years of infection. At this point, severe infections can strike at any time, and chronic symptoms can include: soaking night sweats, shaking chills, shortness of breath, diarrhea, lesions in mouth, fatigue, blurred vision, weight loss and more.
If you think you may be infected, or are at risk of infection, get tested as soon as possible. If you are avoiding getting tested, do it for the sake of those around you, because you might be putting them at risk of infection. Click this link to find a testing location near you: Find location. Here is a rundown on testing:
- Testing for antibodies. Diagnosis is often conducted by checking for HIV antibodies in the blood or saliva. Antibodies are blood proteins the body creates to destroy foreign infections. It can take time for the body to create a density of HIV antibodies that is detectable by a test. This can take between 2-8 weeks, with an average of 25 days.
- Testing for HIV protein. HIV antigen is a protein produced by the virus soon after infection. Modern tests can identify this protein, and diagnose HIV within days of infection.
Determining the Stage
Once a positive diagnosis of HIV has occurred, the next step is to determine the stage and strain of the infection.
- Immune System Strength. In this method, the prevalence of CD4 white blood cells in the blood is counted. A healthy person normally has a CD4 count between 500 and 1000. If the count is under 200, the patient is determined to have AIDS.
- Virus Density. This test determines how prevalent the virus is in the blood. Higher concentration of HIV virus correlate to a poorer health prognosis.
- Drug Resistance. HIV is treated with several drugs at once. To make sure the right drugs are chosen, this test determines whether an individual’s HIV strain has a specific resistance to any of the medications.
A cure for HIV/AIDS does not exist. Several drugs have been produced to help slow down the virus, and the right drugs will be determined by your doctor. What might be useful is to learn about some natural foods and herbs that have shown some promise in helping to fight. Here are a few:
- More Food. HIV patients tend to burn more energy because their immune systems have to work harder. On a daily basis, patients should eat 10% more calories than the usual guidelines, and eat 30% more calories when recovering from illness. Read More.
- Green Tea. In an a study published in 2007, an ingredient in green tea was shown to bind to CD4 cells, providing direct competition with HIV, which also wants to bind to CD4. Within an hour of drinking 2-3 cups of green tea, HIV binding to CD4 cells reduced by approximately 40%. Read More. Learn more about the health benefits of Green Tea.
- Bananas. Bananas contain a family of chemicals called lectins, which are sugar-binding proteins. HIV is enveloped in a casing that is high in sugar content, so banana lectin has a strong affinity for it. By binding to HIV’s casing, it can stop HIV from entering the body. Read More.
- Cannabis. Cannabis can help individuals cope with HIV wasting syndrome, which refers to the difficulty people experience in eating or maintaining weight. Cannabis can stimulate appetite, allowing people to maximize nutrition and immune health. Furthermore, cannabis can relieve HIV neuropathy, which refers to pain in the long nerves of the body. Cannabis helps to manage this pain. Read More.
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