HIV is one of the most feared and misunderstood sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) affecting the world today. Contrary to popular belief, however, HIV is not a “death sentence,” nor does it always progress into AIDS. In fact, the sooner HIV is diagnosed, the sooner preventative measures can be taken to keep the virus from progressing. Unfortunately, however, many people do not get the early intervention they so desperately need because the virus is so good at hiding itself.
While some people do experience minor, flu-like symptoms within a month to two months after contracting the virus, many people will not show symptoms for years. Because HIV can be so hard to detect, it is important for people to protect themselves by practicing safe sex and, when they do put themselves at risk, to get tested as soon as possible.
Signs and Symptoms
As mentioned, there are some potential HIV symptoms. However, these symptoms should in no way be used to diagnose HIV or to dismiss it. With that said, some HIV symptoms that may occur include:
- Unexplained fever
- Swollen lymph nodes/glands
- Muscle pain
- Throat pain
- Joint pain
- Rash or skin inflammation
- Increased and constant tiredness
HIV and AIDS
HIV does have the potential to progress into AIDS. AIDS is typically diagnosed when an HIV positive person begins to suffer from what are known as opportunistic illnesses. These illnesses are illnesses that result from a weakened immune system caused by HIV. The signs that HIV is present and that it may be developing into AIDS include:
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss
- Extreme fatigue
- Chronic swelling of the glands
- Sores or lesions
- Blotches on the skin
- Neurological disorders
The good news is that there are many modern medicines and treatments that can prevent opportunistic illnesses from occurring. The key to keeping HIV under control is early detection.
While there are many methods to lessen the severity of HIV infections, it is always better, of course, to avoid contracting HIV in the first place. Many people who contract HIV do so through unprotected sexual activity. Oral, anal, and vaginal sex can all spread HIV. As such, it is important to use a condom each and every time you engage in sexual activity with another person, particularly if you have partners who are promiscuous or who engage in other high-risk behaviors.
HIV is also commonly spread through the use of shared needles and other drug equipment. It may also be passed from an infected mother to her infant through breast milk. If you engage in high risk behaviors or have sexual contact with those who do, getting tested on a regular basis is highly advisable.
HIV testing is conducted by testing the blood of a potentially infected person. However, it is important to understand that not all tests are capable of detecting HIV in its early stages. The period during which you may be infected without detection is known as a “window” period. It is important, when undergoing testing, to let your health care practitioner know the last time you engaged in risky behavior. That way, he or she can order the appropriate test and/or schedule later testing. Remember, it is possible to avoid getting HIV and to avoid passing it on to others, and testing is one of the first steps in taking control over this virus.