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Once the HIV virus makes its way into your body, it will stay around in your system for the rest of your life. Thus, HIV treatment is more about managing this condition rather than curing the disease. Treatment entails taking medicines that arrest and set back the proliferation of the virus in your body.
If not medically treated, HIV poses the threat of progressing to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which is the final and most severe stage of this infection.
AIDS goes beyond just the infection and is basically a potentially life-threatening set of symptoms that severely undermine the immune system to the point of failure, eventually leaving it completely unable to fight fatal infections and cancers.
Treatment for HIV
Given that HIV figures among the retrovirus family, the drugs used to treat it are called antiretrovirals (ARV). These drugs are administered as part of combination therapy in conjunction with other ARVs. This standard treatment is collectively called antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Although a cure for HIV does not yet exist, this is no reason to resign yourself to fate and disregard the current treatments available. The lack of medical care is the reason most cases of HIV deteriorate into a much more advanced form of this disease.
While it’s best to start your ART from the initial stages of the infection, the therapy is equally imperative for people with AIDS.
In fact, ART is recommended for all HIV patients, regardless of their stage or symptoms, and is the only way to ensure a long and healthy life for them. So much so that if you are fortunate enough to get an early diagnosis, you can live just as long as a healthy individual given that you strictly follow your ART regime.
Moreover, this therapy can also reduce the viral load in your blood and body fluids and thereby can lower the risk of transmitting HIV to your partner(s).
Preventive Measures Against HIV
Healthcare professionals recommend the following precautionary measures to prevent the risk of contracting or transmitting the HIV infection:
- The first and foremost step towards HIV prevention is to get tested for it, in order to rule out an active infection, especially before you engage in sex with others. Similarly, it is equally important to know the HIV status of your partner before sexual intercourse.
- Because having an STI of any kind increases your risk of contracting HIV, it’s best you get tested for them to pursue the appropriate treatment in case you test positive for any. Insist that your partner does the same.
- Limit the number of your sexual partners, as multiple partners translate to greater chances of transmission.
- The most common mode of HIV transmission is through unprotected sex. It is therefore paramount that you always use condoms or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) when engaging in sex with someone who has multiple partners and risk factors. (1)
- In developed countries, intravenous drug use with shared or contaminated needles is often responsible for the spread of this virus. If having to use a needle to take medications or drugs, make sure that the drug injection equipment is sterile and unused. Moreover, never share your own injection equipment or borrow it from others.
- Because the infection is often contracted through exposure to contaminated blood, healthcare workers are naturally at an increased risk. Following universal precautions to minimize the chances of transmission is necessary. These precautions include wearing protective gear such as a mask, gown, gloves, and eyewear when dealing with body fluids and following protocols after exposure.
- Pregnant women who have tested positive for HIV can reduce the chances of passing it on to their fetus by following the prescribed regimen of medications. Also, such cases usually warrant the baby to be delivered via a C-section instead of vaginal birth.
- If you happen to be at an increased risk of contracting HIV, consult your healthcare provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is the daily administration of a combination of two pills that works as an HIV prevention option for people who don’t already have the disease.
What Is PrEP?
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is a recommended preventive measure against HIV transmission for people with an increased susceptibility of getting infected. It entails taking HIV medicines daily to stave off the virus from taking hold and spreading throughout your body. However, in order to be effective, one must adhere to the prescribed dosage religiously. (1)
If you follow the prescribed daily administration of PrEP, your odds of getting HIV through sexual transmission go down by 90 percent. To further mitigate the risk of sexual transmission, it’s best to couple this therapy with other safeguards such as condoms.
Moreover, PrEP works to reduce the risk of getting infected via contaminated injections by as much as 70 percent. (1) If not taken consistently, these preventive medicines fail to have the desired protective effect.
How Does the HIV Test Work?
The HIV test is done using your blood or saliva samples to detect the presence of HIV-specific antibodies in the body. These antibodies are proteins produced by your body in response to an active HIV infection that help to fight the culpable virus.
The detection of such antibodies is taken to be a conclusive sign of an ongoing infection, except in cases where these antibodies might be passed on by infected mothers to their newborns who then carry them in their system for as long as 18 months.
Such diagnostic tests do not provide the complete picture, however. They simply indicate if you are infected or not, without highlighting the possibility of AIDS, nor the extent or the progression of the disease.
Who Should Get Tested and How Often?
The CDC recommends that people within the age gap of 13–64 years should make it a point to get tested at least once in their lifetime. (2) Furthermore, people who are in high-risk populations should exercise greater precaution and get tested often, which is every 3–6 months.
To be more certain, you must speak with your healthcare provider to get a fair assessment of your risk factors and accordingly determine how often you should get tested for HIV.
Window Period: When Does HIV Become Detectable by Testing?
After being exposed to the HIV virus, the body’s natural defenses spring into action and start producing antibodies to fight the invading pathogens. The time it takes for the body to create enough HIV antibodies for the infection to be picked up by a standard HIV test is referred to as the window period.
Although the window period for HIV varies depending on the test used, the earliest possible diagnosis can be no sooner than 3 weeks. Most people generally develop identifiable antibodies within 3 to 12 weeks of infection, whereas some might even test negative during this tentative period despite having HIV.
Dos and Don’ts for HIV-Positive Pregnant Women
HIV-positive women who are expecting to give birth can avert the risk of transmitting the infection to their babies by following a doctor-prescribed treatment and certain precautionary measures.
- The efficacy and success rate of the currently available treatment plan designed for this purpose is such that it reduces the risk of mother-to-fetus transmission to less than 1 percent, even in the case of normal delivery. Conversely, in the absence of this safeguard, the mother is 25 percent likely to pass on the virus to her baby. (3)
- Moreover, some women might have to opt for a cesarean delivery regardless, due to certain unrelated reasons. It is best to enlist the advice of the more informed practitioners at your HIV clinic.
- Also, the mother’s milk is another medium through which the virus can be passed on to the baby; therefore, breastfeeding in most cases is not recommended in HIV-positive mothers.
Unfortunately, HIV continues to be incurable despite ongoing scientific efforts to find a more permanent solution to this problem. This, however, does not mean that HIV patients cannot live long, healthy, and fulfilling lives.
Managing this condition with proper medical care, particularly with the assistance of ART, allows patients to go about their daily business just like anyone else. However, consistency is key when following ART for arresting the spread of the virus in the body.
With the prescribed administration of this therapy, the viral load (amount of HIV in the blood) reduces to such an extent that it becomes virtually undetectable. The best case scenario is that with adequate, timely, and consistent treatment, an HIV-positive person can expect to live almost as long as a healthy individual. (4)
Any deficiency of proper medical care is bound to make the condition progressively worse and eventually advance to AIDS.