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Facts on HIV/AIDS

What Is HIV?

HIV(Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). AIDS is the name given to a group of illnesses that are caused by severe compromise of the immune system by HIV.

 

How Do You Get HIV?

HIV is transmitted through body fluids like blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breastmilk. Most people get HIV through sexual intercourse and mother to child transmission through breastmilk. Transmission can also occur through the placenta and to an exposed baby during child birth. Cuts and pricks by contaminated objects can also cause infection.

Who can get HIV?

HIV can infect anybody irrespective of their age, race, gender, religious affiliation, marital, social or economic status. Anyone can get HIV as long as they are exposed to the virus.

How long does it take to develop symptoms?

Some people may develop symptoms soon after acquiring the infection. Most people start to develop symptoms several months or even years later.

What Should a Person Do After They Test Positive?

The best thing after receiving a positive HIV test is to visit a health care provider who will arrange to do a number of baseline tests to determine your immune and virological status. Vital organs are tested, especially if you are eligible to start antiretroviral treatment. You will also receive education on how to lead a healthy lifestyle and counseling to help you cope with the diagnosis.

Should I repeat a HIV test if I test negative?

It is recommended that a HIV test be repeated after 3 months. This is because the readily available tests detect antibodies, which are produced by the body to help fight the virus. In most people, antibodies against HIV will have been produced by 3 months. This means that one can test HIV negative but still have the virus if enough antibodies have not been produced yet. This is a good reason to engage in safe sex even if you or your partner have received a negative result.

HIV monitoring tests?

When one is tested positive, a number of tests should be done. These include a CD4 test. The CD4 cell is a special kind of white blood cell important in maintaining a healthy immunity. CD4 cell count falls with increasing viral multiplication. It generally rises on starting antiretroviral treatment. This rise is a sign of immune recovery. Other recommended tests include viral load testing, tests to assess function of major organs and tests to identify other illnesses that may compound HIV infection or impact on its treatment.

HIV treatment?

Treatment of HIV has come a long way since the advent of antiretroviral therapy 2 decades ago. Many drugs are now available that are both more potent and much safer to use. In general, a combination of drugs is used to completely suppress the virus and avoid the emergence of resistance strains. This is called Highly Active Antiretroviral Treatment (HAART). As a rule of thumb, HAART should be taken everyday at the prescribed time, indefinitely. One must feel comfortable enough to discuss with the healthcare provider any challenges arising from taking HAART so that their regimen is not compromised.

What of Side effects?

Antiretroviral treatment, just like any other medication has side effects. Fortunately, a majority of people are able to take the drugs without encountering major problems. Also, most of the drugs now recommended for use in Kenya are much safer than regimens that were previously available. It is important however to be aware of potential side effects to avoid unwarranted interruptions in ones therapy. This is discussed at length with your health care provider as you initiate treatment and during subsequent clinic visits. If you suspect that your drugs are causing problems, do not hesitate to see your provider immediately.

Is there a cure for HIV/AIDS?

There is no known cure for HIV/AIDS yet. The drugs currently in use significantly reduce multiplication of the virus but are not able to completely eliminate it.
Preventing illnessesAs HIV largely attacks the immune system, one is susceptible to acquiring various infections and other illnesses. A number of drugs and vaccinations are recommended for HIV positive individuals to prevent certain conditions.

Disclosure?

Although the medical management of HIV is now very similar to that of other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, a lot of stigma around HIV remains. This is largely due to misinformation and fears of the unknown. It is for this reason that disclosure is very difficult, despite its potential benefits. Some of the benefits include the emotional support one derives from confiding in a trusted person. It is also easier to take medication freely without worrying about being found out. It is also important as it provides an opportunity for a sexual partner to get tested and know their status. The issues surrounding disclosure are often complex. It is advisable to talk to a counselor to see what opportunities are available for disclosure.

Family testing?

As HIV is largely transmitted sexually and through breastmilk, once someone is found to be HIV positive, arrangements should be made to have immediate family members i.e. spouse or sexual partner and children tested. Remember, a good number of HIV positive people have sexual partners who are negative, and information is available on how a negative partner can remain un-infected. Importantly, children may carry the virus long after they are infected in infancy. All children born to a HIV positive mother should receive a HIV test irrespective of age or physical wellbeing.

Where can you access care?

The Mater Hospital has a dedicated HIV care programme where one can be tested, counseled, put on treatment and receive long term quality care.