HIV Symptoms And Testing

HIV is Still a Threat

Though reporting on the threat of HIV has slowed, the threat of the illness itself remains for all sexually active individuals, as well as those exposed through alternate routes of infection. Fortunately treatment options have expanded enormously since the 80s and 90s, when a diagnosis was often a death sentence. However knowing the nature of the risk, the symptoms, and how testing is arranged and performed can increase your safety.

HIV Information

Risks of HIV Infection

At the time HIV first surfaced in the West, it was seen as a restricted “gay” disease. Only time and study made it clear that, like any other contagious disease, it was an equal opportunity infection. HIV is transmitted through the fluids of the body: blood, mucus, sexual fluids, and saliva. HIV can be transmitted to a child through mother’s milk. However HIV doesn’t live long when exposed to air and light. Primary routes of infection remain sexual contact, shared use of drug paraphernalia, and exchange through such rare catastrophes as contaminated blood transfusion.

Primary methods of avoiding HIV remain celibacy or monogamous protected sex with an uninfected partner; protected sex in all instances where a partner’s HIV status is unknown; sterile needles and non-shared needles in drug use; and high levels of precaution in blood and tissue transfers.

Symptoms of HIV Infection

HIV’s first symptoms are often easily confused with those of the flu. Fever, sore throat, aches and pains, and swollen lymph glands may be present in as many as 50% of those infected. As often, though, symptoms are so mild as to go unnoticed. In many instances no symptoms are experienced until the patient shifts from HIV to active AIDS, when many varied symptoms may indicate the failure of the immune system.

Because HIV itself is so easily overlooked, with symptoms so similar to common flu and cold symptoms, those who have reason to believe they have been exposed have an obligation to themselves and to their sexual partners to get HIV testing, to determine their status. Sexually active adults outside monogamous relationships, and anyone exposed to potentially infected body fluids should be tested as often as once a year. An asymptomatic patient can remain infected and contagious for as many as eight to ten years before developing full-blown AIDS, allowing an HIV carrier to infect many partners.

Getting Tested for HIV

If you have reason to be tested, you can use several techniques and sources. The most common method is to use rapid testing, which uses blood, saliva or urine samples to test for HIV antibodies. These are cells produced by the body specifically to combat the HIV retrovirus, and they have a specific biological “thumbprint” distinct from other antibodies. Similar testing is used to determine if other infections have been contracted: there’s nothing exceptional or peculiar in the method used. Technicians filter the blood for antibodies and run a protein test identifying the specific combination. Recently new tests have been developed testing for the RNA specific to HIV, and particular strains. They are not, however, likely to replace standard testing for simple diagnosis.

There are many varieties of test. Only one is available for home use: an HIV testing kit approved by the FDA as safe and effective. Most people, however, prefer to contact a medical clinic or other health care provider to have the tests run professionally, often using referral agencies to locate reliable, discreet providers.


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