The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is known to be one of the most hazardous viral sexually transmitted diseases. Although up to this day there is still no known cure to the disease, HIV does not have to be a death sentence for the ones suffering from it. In fact, we have come a long way since 1920 after the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) that was found in chimpanzees made contact with humans through their infected blood and was believed to lead to HIV. Even better, scientists have made good strides in inventing suitable antiretroviral treatments since the virus was first identified in 1983 by a French virologist and his team. A positive HIV diagnosis is not a matter that can be easily brushed under the rug, but with correct antiretroviral drugs, HIV positive people are in for a chance to lead healthy, long and happy lives.
The key to being certain whether or not a person is free from the virus is to get tested. And when it comes to becoming fully aware of sexual health status, getting tested for HIV sooner is always better, because if the result comes back positive, the most fitting treatment can be administered as soon as possible. Early HIV treatment is beneficial because when an HIV positive person takes antiretroviral drugs as instructed to reduce the viral load to undetectable quantities, they cannot pass the virus on through sex. This step also means taking the best possible measure to ensure our partner’s safety and health. The correct medication also prevents the virus from evolving into the most severe stage of HIV, AIDS.
Some people may develop flu-like symptoms during the first stage of HIV known as the acute HIV infection. These HIV symptoms usually emerge within 2 to 4 weeks after infection takes place. It is important to note that not every person may experience the flu-like illness. These first signs that develop after infection occurs can last a few days to several weeks. Experiencing the symptoms below does not automatically mean you have HIV (since other illnesses may be the culprit), but if you think that you have been exposed to the virus recently, getting tested will save you from losing a restful night’s sleep. Several possible HIV symptoms are:
- Sweating at night
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen glands
- Upset stomach
- Mouth ulcers
Stages of HIV
There are three stages of HIV that can progress over time if left untreated. The most severe phase of HIV is what is widely known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). However, with how advanced treatments have developed over the years, the virus’ development to the final stage is becoming less common today compared to when HIV was first discovered.
Acute HIV infection
Acute HIV infection is also referred to as ‘primary HIV infection’ or ‘acute retroviral syndrome’. As described above, the earliest symptoms of this stage occur 2 to 4 weeks after a person’s first exposure to the virus. Below are the things that usually take place in the first stage:
- An infected person’s blood is full of HIV that is very contagious
- Some people experience flu-like symptoms and illness. These symptoms are the body’s reactions to the virus. Since the HIV-infected cells are revolving around the blood system, the immune system is trying to fight off the virus through producing HIV antibodies. This process is known as seroconversion and timing varies from one person to another (generally takes a few months to go through the process).
- Some people, however, may not develop this sickness immediately or at all
- HIV testing is the only surefire way to determine whether or not a person has HIV. If you are concerned with your sexual health status after a possible HIV exposure, seek help from a STD clinic in Singapore.
What every person should take note of is the fact that HIV will not always get detected in the early stage due to ‘window periods’, which are described as a time a person gets tested after getting exposed to the virus and when a test can definitely tell if a person carries the virus. The only accurate forms of test to diagnose acute HIV infection is the nucleic acid test (NAT) or the antigen/antibody tests.
Since the infected person’s blood carries a heavy and large amount of contagious virus load, using condoms is highly advised so the virus is not passed to others.
Chronic HIV infection
After the acute HIV infection and the seroconversion process are over, a person may start regaining their health, followed by the next stage known as chronic HIV infection or clinical latency. The virus still multiplies in this stage, though at low levels. If left undiagnosed and untreated, this stage may last 10 to 15 years depending on a person’s age and health.
Although the HIV positive person in this stage may not go through any symptoms, the virus is still making its move to infect new cells and people who do not take antiretroviral drugs and have detectable viral load can transmit it to others even when no symptoms are happening. The chance of HIV positive people who regularly take medication as prescribed to move to stage 3 is slim, but it is highly recommended to pay the healthcare professional regular visits to keep track of the HIV status and viral load.
If a person does not consume antiretroviral drugs to minimize and mitigate the spread of the virus from taking over the body, at the end of this stage, the viral load will go up as the CD4 cell (white blood cells or T cells that fight infection and are significant to the immune system) count depletes. As the virus counts rocket, the person can experience symptoms and progress to stage 3.
Acquired human immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)
This is the final and gravest stage that an HIV positive person can possibly go through. In this stage, a person’s immune system is alarmingly damaged and they are more likely to contract severe infections (opportunistic infections) and diseases which the body normally is able to fight off. Symptoms of AIDS may include:
- Rapid weight loss
- Extreme diarrhea
- Serious fatigue
- Night sweats
- Continuous cough
- Swollen glands (in armpit, groin or neck)
- Problems in the mouth and skin
- Sores (occurring on the mouth, anus or genitals)
- Memory loss
A person is said to have AIDS when the CD4 cell count goes below 200 cells/mm. Those in this stage who undergo treatment can battle and win through AIDS-related infections and diseases while keeping HIV in check, but people who do not receive treatment will generally live around three years.
Not only knowing your sexual health status will make you take the required and correct steps to better your wellbeing, it also saves your partner from unwanted problems and predicaments. It is imperative that we incorporate HIV testing into our routine health check, and Shim Clinic is always here to ensure your sexual health is in tip-top condition. We specialise in men’s sexual health and provide a wide range of services including STD testing and STD treatments, HIV testing and HIV treatments, HIV PEP and HIV PrEP.