HIV is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the immune system. Nowadays, it is increasingly considered to be a chronic disease, meaning a disease that develops slowly and requires treatment over a long period. Some people never develop symptoms even though they’re carrying the virus, but they can still transmit it. Most people who get the disease are between 20 and 40 years old.
- by unprotected sexual contact with an infected person
- by blood-to-blood contact with an infected person (for example, pricking yourself with a used and contaminated needle or hypodermic syringe)
- during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding, since a mother can transmit the infection to her baby
Note that the virus can’t cross the skin. For the virus to infect someone, it needs an entry point: an open wound, a cut, a burn, or another type of lesion.
HIV infection has 4 phases:
- primary infection
- asymptomatic latency period
- symptomatic period
During the primary infection phase, only 30% of people may have symptoms. They are:
- severe night sweats
- extreme fatigue
- serious weight loss
- swollen lymph nodes that create lumps on the neck, armpits, and groin
- diarrhea, fever, and a cough that won’t go away
Some people never have any symptoms when they first get infected. Studies have shown that it can take up to 13 years for an infected person to develop HIV/AIDS.
This virus attacks the immune system. Consequently, it can damage the lungs, skin, digestive system, and nervous system. After several years, it can create more severe problems.
Screening and treatment 🔍
The virus antibodies are detected with a blood test. A positive test confirms that the person is carrying the virus; in other words, they’re seropositive. For the test results to be conclusive, you need to wait 3 months following the last time you had at-risk sex before getting tested.
At present, there is no effective cure for this infection. Certain treatments and drugs can control some of the infections that develop, but they don’t eliminate the virus..
To avoid catching or spreading HIV, use a condom during sex and don’t share needles. Those are the safest methods. Also, ask your sexual partners to see a doctor and take a screening test, even if they don’t have any symptoms.