~ Weekly Health Advice from PMGH – World AIDS Day, 1st December 2016 – Part 2 of 3 ~

HIV/AIDS Symptoms
You cannot rely on symptoms to tell whether you have HIV, the only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. Knowing your status is important because it helps you make healthy decisions to prevent getting or transmitting HIV. The symptoms of HIV vary, depending on the individual and what stage of the disease you are in: the early stage, the clinical latency stage, or AIDS (the late stage of HIV infection). The below from AIDS.gov is some of the symptoms that some individuals may experience in these three stages. Please note that not all individuals will experience these symptoms.
Early stage HIV: Some people may experience a flu-like illness within 2-4 weeks after HIV infection. But some people may not feel sick during this stage. Flu-like symptoms can include fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and mouth ulcers. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. During this time, HIV infection may not show up on an HIV test, but people who have it are highly infectious and can spread the infection to others. You should not assume you have HIV just because you have any of these symptoms. Each of these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses. And some people who have HIV do not show any symptoms at all for 10 years or more. If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, get an HIV test. Most HIV tests detect antibodies (proteins your body makes as a reaction against the presence of HIV), not HIV itself. But it takes a few weeks for your body to produce these antibodies, so if you test too early, you might not get an accurate test result. Talk to your doctor about your result and talk about your treatment options if you’re HIV-positive or learn ways to prevent getting HIV if you’re HIV-negative. You are at high risk of transmitting HIV to others during the early stage of HIV infection, even if you have no symptoms. For this reason, it is very important to take steps to reduce your risk of transmission.
Clinical Latency Stage: After the early stage of HIV infection, the disease moves into a stage called the clinical latency stage (also called “chronic HIV infection”). During this stage, HIV is still active but reproduces at very low levels. People with chronic HIV infection may not have any HIV-related symptoms or only mild ones. For people who aren’t taking medicine to treat HIV (called antiretroviral therapy or ART), this period can last a decade or longer, but some may progress through this phase faster. People who are taking medicine to treat HIV the right way, every day may be in this stage for several decades because treatment helps keep the virus in check. It’s important to remember that people can still transmit HIV to others during this phase even if they have no symptoms, although people who are on ART and stay virally suppressed (having a very low level of virus in their blood) are much less likely to transmit HIV than those who are not virally suppressed.
Progression to AIDS: If you have HIV and you are not on ART, eventually the virus will weaken your body’s immune system, and you will progress to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), the late stage of HIV infection. Symptoms can include: rapid weight loss, recurring fever or profuse night sweats, extreme and unexplained tiredness, prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck, diarrhoea that lasts for more than a week, sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals, pneumonia, red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids, memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders.
Testing and Treatment of HIV
Testing for HIV is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV, many people do not have any symptoms and can live for many years without knowing they have the virus. Testing for HIV is quick, easy, painless and confidential. It important that while you wait for your test results that you do not engage in any sexual activity as your results will only be current from the day you were tested. A positive result can lead to feelings of shock, anger, distress and depression, talk to your doctor about making an appointment with a counsellor to discuss your result. If your test is negative talk to your doctor to make sure you continue taking the right preventative measures. HIV is treated using a combination of medicines to fight HIV infection called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART isn’t a cure, but it can control the virus so that you can live a longer, healthier life and reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others. ART is recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of how long they’ve had the virus or how healthy they are. If left untreated, HIV will attack the immune system and eventually progress to AIDS. It is important that the medications prescribed by your doctor are taken exactly as prescribed (right time, right amount, and right way). If you are unsure you’re are taking your medications correctly talk to your doctor.
We will be posting more useful information on HIV/AIDS tomorrow. Please check back soon.