Human immunodeficiency virus infection/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS)

HIV is a virus that infects the human immune system and potentially causes AIDS (Acquired Immuno-deficiency virus).

During the initial infection a person may experience a brief period of influenza-like illness. This is typically followed by a prolonged period without symptoms. As the infection progresses into illness; it becomes AIDS, and thus interferes more and more with the immune system, making people much more likely to get infections, including opportunistic infections and tumours that do not usually affect people with working immune systems.

HIV is transmitted primarily via unprotected sexual intercourse (including anal and even oral sex), contaminated blood transfusions and hypodermic needles, and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding.

Some bodily fluids, such as saliva and tears, do not transmit HIV.

Prevention of HIV infection, primarily through safe sex and needle-exchange programs, is a key strategy to control the spread of the infection. There is no cure or vaccine; however, antiretroviral treatment can slow the course of the disease and may lead to a near-normal life expectancy. While antiretroviral treatment reduces the risk of death and complications from the disease, these medications are expensive and may be associated with side effects.

HIV Testing and Voluntary Counseling

To learn if one has been infected by HIV, the person should take an HIV test. For over 20 years, client-initiated HIV testing and counselling, also known as voluntary counselling and testing (VCT), has helped millions of people learn their HIV status. HIV counselling and testing (HTC) is a critical entry point to life-sustaining care for people with HIV, a key element of Treatment 2.0 and essential for the prevention of vertical HIV transmission.

The HIV test is a blood test that shows whether HIV antibodies are present in the blood. A positive test result means that HIV has been detected in the person’s blood.

A negative result means that HIV has not been found by the test. This can happen if:

1.There are no HIV viruses at all.
2.There are HIV copies in the blood, but the immune system has not yet provided enough antibodies, and they cannot be detected (this is called a window period that usually lasts for half a year from moment of getting infected).
3.The patient may have AIDS, but the immune system does not produce enough antibodies to be detected by the test.

It is to note that people who test negative for HIV should receive support and counselling on how to reduce exposure to HIV.

Sources: WHO, EHRN, Wikipedia