HIV is a tiny virus carried in the blood in male and female sex fluids. HIV infected fluids can enter a person’s body through breaks in the skin and enter the blood.
Tiny poly cells are present in the blood to protect a person from germs that cause infections such as TB and flu. These poly cells are called CD4 cells. HIV harms the body by attacking the CD4 cells and making the body more prone to other illness causing germs.
The good news is that a person with HIV who lives a healthy lifestyle, gets regular medical care and takes medication, can live for 25 years or more after infection. However, the individual who fails to take these steps will experience a series of infections; lose weight and usually die within 10 to 12 years.
A person who has HIV but does not get treatment by a doctor or nurse will go through the following stages.
Acute HIV infection at some time during the first month or so. After HIV enters the body, the person may have a flu-like illness. Symptoms may include fever, a tea rash headache, swollen lymph nodes and sore throat.
Some people have no symptoms at all. The viral levels at this time are very high because at first, the body is unable to fight the virus. During this time, the HIV antibody test is negative. This is called the window period.
Within about one to two months, the body begins to produce antibodies to fight the virus and viral levels drop. The rapid HIV antibody test detects these antibodies.
A blood test can be done in the hospital or clinic to measure how many CD4 cells a person has. This test is called the CD4 count. During this time of acute HIV infection, the CD4 count goes from a normal level of 1200 down to about 900.
The viral levels at this time are very high because at first the body is unable to fight the virus within about one to two months. The body begins to produce antibodies to fight the virus and viral levels drop after the initial infection.
The body can effectively fight the HIV for about five years. This period is called stage 1. During this time, the CD4 poly cell levels drop from about 900 to 500.
At the same time, the HIV levels in the blood slowly rise. Although generally symptom-free, a person in this stage can still pass the virus on to others from about six to nine years.
After infection, a person is in stage two of HIV infection. During this phase, the CD4 count may go down from about 500 to 350. At the same time, the HIV levels in the blood slowly rise, swollen glands appear in the neck, armpits or in the groin. A person may feel weak and tired and experience fevers and weight loss.
The number of CD4 cells is now so low that other germs that cause infections find it easier to invade the body. This makes it so prone to coughs and colds, skin rashes, shingles, fungal nail infections. And, mouth sores become more common in this stage.
After about nine to eleven years of HIV infection, the CD4 count drops below 350 and the person enters stage 3. HIV viral levels continue to increase. In addition to all areas, sometimes listed a person may have abdominal pain, ongoing diarrhea, cough and headaches.
Additionally, painful blisters of the mouth or genitals may happen again and again within about 11 or 12 years of HIV infection. Without medical treatment, a person enters stage four.
Another name for stage 4 is AIDS. The CD4 count drops below 200 and the body begins to lose its long battle against HIV. Viral levels are high in the blood. Severe life-threatening infections or care in this stage.
ARVs work better if started before the later stages of HIV. The decision of when to start ARVs is made by your health care provider. These can dramatically reduce the HIV in the blood.
Other medicines may be prescribed to prevent and treat other infections such as TB. It is very important that once ARVs are started that they are taken as directed. If doses are missed or the ARV stopped entirely, the ARVs may stop working against the HIV in the future. The good news is that ARVs can give a person many more healthy years of life.
HIV tests used to take weeks. Now, it’s just a minute.
Three little vials and a drop of blood is all it takes. For a clear diagnosis, a community clinic performs 9,000 HIV tests on people a year. In Canada, the demand is as strong as ever and getting these kits on pharmacy shelves and in people’s hands could meet the need.
A real option of a fast test but also a private test and something they can get outside the health authorities. According to research and health institutes, Canada’s HIV numbers aren’t going down, there’s a new diagnosis every four hours. It’s an infection rate similar to the European Union’s.
But, Canada is falling behind high-income countries like Germany, Sweden and Australia and some Canadians are more vulnerable than others. Black and indigenous people are less than 9% of Canadian population. Yet, they make up almost half of new HIV cases.
Experts estimate as many as a quarter of people with HIV have not been tested for it. Stigma is part of the problem. People don’t want to go to a overcrowded sexual health clinic to get tested.
People still fear facing homophobia from their doctor. These things can be addressed with a home self testing kit inside your self testing kit. That’s why the European Union approved the same take home tests for sale three years ago.
Health Canada wants clinical trial evidence from Canada before it does the same. The researcher heading that trial says Canada is playing catch-up not just in approving the tests for sale but in attitudes towards HIV self testing.
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