HIV often causes fear for those who are unfamiliar with the disease or those who have been recently diagnosed. The fear is well-founded in some ways, due to the serious nature of the disease and the long-term implications it can have for those who are diagnosed.
However, proper education and knowledge regarding HIV are your best defense for preventing infection, as well as managing the condition if you have already been diagnosed. This article is going to explore the way the virus is transmitted, proper testing and diagnosis options, ways to prevent infection, as well as current treatment options that are available.
Understanding the Transmission of HIV
HIV is transmitted through contact with certain bodily fluids. These bodily fluids must come into contact with a mucous membrane, torn or otherwise damaged tissue, or be injected into the bloodstream directly to cause infection.
The bodily fluids that can cause HIV are:
- Vaginal fluids
- Pre-seminal fluid
- Rectal fluids
- Breast milk
The most common methods that HIV is transmitted are unprotected anal and vaginal sex, as well as sharing needles. Other less common methods that HIV can be transmitted include receiving contaminated blood, being accidentally stuck with a needle that is contaminated with HIV, transmission during pregnancy from mother to child, and oral sex.
The Role of Prevention
Now that you understand how HIV is transmitted, you can now learn some effective ways to reduce the likelihood of contracting the disease. The most effective way to prevent HIV transmission is to engage in safer sex practices.
This includes things like wearing condoms and the use of dental dams during oral sex. For expectant mothers, it is always a good idea to have an HIV test conducted by your medical professional to check your HIV status. In the event you discover you are HIV positive during your pregnancy, there are many treatment options available that your medical provider can discuss with you.
For those who have used injectable drugs in the past, it is important to understand how easily HIV can be transmitted via used needles and other shared injection equipment. Try seeking help at a local clinic to curtail drug use and understand the importance of using needle exchange programs, if they are available in your area.
One of the most innovative ways that people who are at high-risk of HIV exposure can protect themselves is the use of Pre-exposure Prophylaxis medications, otherwise known as PrEP. This prevention method utilizes an existing HIV treatment drug that prevents the drug from copying itself in the event it enters your bloodstream. The medication is taken once a day and is considered safe and effective.
Testing Options Available For HIV
In addition to proper prevention strategies, it is imperative that you understand the testing options that are currently available for HIV. There are currently three main testing methods that are used to detect HIV infection. Each test has a slightly different window period within which accurate results can be attained. The window period is the amount of time that it takes for a person who has recently become infected with HIV to be able to be accurately diagnosed by a given test.
The three main testing methods are:
- Combination tests (antibody/antigen tests)
- Antibody tests
- Nucleic acid tests (NATs)
Combination tests work by detecting both HIV antibodies and HIV antigens. These types of test are the ones that are most commonly used for testing at hospitals and other medical offices. The window period for this type of test is anywhere from two to six weeks after infection. This makes it a very reliable method to diagnosis HIV.
Antibody tests only attempt to detect HIV antibodies in blood or saliva of patients. Most home test kits and rapid testing options utilize this method of HIV detection. The window period for this type of test is significantly larger than the other testing methods. It can range anywhere from three to twelve weeks. However, this testing method has the advantage of being very quick and can be conducted from the privacy of your own home.
Nucleic Acid Test
NATs are a type of HIV test that looks for the HIV virus itself within the blood. They are the most expensive type of test and are rarely used except in cases where exposure to HIV is extremely high. They have the smallest initial window period of seven days. However, the infection can take up to 28 days to be detected.
The key thing to remember when it comes to HIV detection is that each type of test has a certain window period. The only way to ensure you are receiving an accurate result is to have a follow-up test conducted after the window period has expired while avoiding any possible HIV transmission activities.
In the event you receive a positive diagnosis, it is important that you seek advice from a medical professional. Your doctor will order a second test to confirm the presence of HIV in your system. In the event HIV infection is confirmed a second time, you can begin working with your doctor to determine the best treatment method.
HIV Treatment Methods Currently Available
There are many different treatment regimens that are available for HIV today. These treatments allow those who are infected with HIV to live long and healthy lives as long as they adhere to their treatment routine. It also greatly reduces the likelihood of transmitting HIV to another person in the future.
HIV treatment is known as antiretroviral therapy, more commonly known as ART. ART therapy involves a combination of different medications that are taken daily to reduce the amount of HIV that is present in your blood. This helps your body recover and ensures that it is able to fight infections much like an HIV negative person would.
There are currently six classes of HIV medication. The six classes include:
- Protease inhibitors (PIs)
- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)
- Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)
- Fusion inhibitors
- Integrase strand transfer inhibitors (INSTIs)
- CCR5 antagonists (CCR5s)
With the exception of CCR5 antagonists, these medications work by inhibiting different enzymes that are crucial for HIV replication in the healthy cells of your body. By blocking these enzymes, the medication prevents HIV cells from replicating and allows your body to naturally fight the infection.
CCR5s work by blocking receptors on certain immune cells in your body. These receptors are used by the virus to infect the healthy cells. By blocking the receptor, HIV is not able to enter and replicate within the healthy cell.
Remember, HIV is now a manageable condition thanks to advancements in modern medicine. The most important thing to do is to ensure you accurately understand how the virus is transmitted, how to protect yourself, as well as the current testing and treatment methods that are available today. By educating yourself, you can better protect yourself and those you care about from HIV infection.