Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that over time can destroy your immune system and develop into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV itself is not lethal, but the damage it causes to your immune system makes other infections far more deadly. Unfortunately, there is no cure at the moment, but treatment allows those with the virus to live long, healthy lives. This is because early treatment is vital to preventing HIV from developing into AIDS.
How is it transmitted?
While HIV is a sexually transmitted disease and most commonly spread through sex, you don’t have to be sexually active to have contracted it. If HIV positive blood enters your body through any means then it is possible for you to have been infected. This is why it is so important to not share needles.
How is it not transmitted?
Don’t worry about kissing or sharing food or drink as HIV can not spread through saliva. Likewise, mosquitoes and other bugs are incapable of transmitting the disease. Despite blood being a medium of transmission for HIV, there is very little chance of contracting it through a blood transfusion as all donated blood is screened for HIV and other STDs.
What are the symptoms?
For most people, two-four weeks after contracting HIV they will begin to have flu-like symptoms of aches and fever. However, it is common for individuals to go years without noticing any symptoms of HIV or AIDS, so the only way to be sure about your status is by having an STD screening. For the health of you and your partner(s), if you have had any risk of contracting HIV use the Safe App to schedule a comprehensive STD panel at a nearby lab, or get tested at a clinic and connect your results for free.
What kind of damage can it cause?
Because the initial symptoms are not easily identifiable as the result of HIV, it is common for them to go by unchecked. If enough time passes, HIV will progress into AIDS, irreparably damaging your immune system. By the time AIDS develops, the individual will experience a wide variety of obvious symptoms, from rare infections to bruising easily, if left undiagnosed, AIDS quickly progresses to a dangerous point.
How is it treated?
There is no cure for HIV or AIDS, yet HIV positive individuals must undergo Antiretroviral therapy (ART), a series of pills they take prevents the virus from reproducing. The goal of ART is to reach a point in which you have an undetectable viral load so that the virus can not destroy your immune system or be transmitted.
There is also Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). Both are antiretroviral therapies that can be used to reduce the chances of actually contracting HIV. If you have a high risk of contracting the infection you may want to consider PrEP to lower your chances of transmission if you come in contact with HIV. If you believe you have come into contact within the previous 72 hours, then you want to immediately seek PEP to prevent yourself from being irreversibly infected.
HIV isn’t the end.
Many people live long and healthy lives with HIV and never have it progress to AIDS. The key to their wellbeing is identifying HIV early and receiving treatment early. If you have ever had unprotected sex, sex with someone who is HIV positive, or have shared needles then it is a good idea to have a screening done. An STD test can only help you and is often free with insurance. If you don’t have insurance download the Safe App, which will find labs close to you that offer a comprehensive STD test for the lowest price of $99. The best thing you can do for yourself and your partner is to identify HIV and to treat it.