What you need to know about HIV.
What is HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)? Learn how HIV is transmitted and how it’s linked to AIDS.
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus
HIV is a virus. Viruses like HIV cannot reproduce on their own. Viruses need to infect the cells of living organisms to replicate, or make new copies of themselves). Your immune system usually fights viruses fairly quickly, but HIV attacks the immune system that normally fights the virus itself.
Transmission of HIV
HIV is found in the blood, sexual fluids and in the breast milk of an infected individual. HIV transmission occurs when a sufficient quantity of these fluids enter into someone else’s bloodstream. A person can become infected with HIV by:
- Being in contact with an infected person’s blood. If sufficient blood from an individual who is infected with the HIV virus enters someone else’s body, then HIV can be transmitted to the individual.
- Use of infected blood products, e.g. blood transfusion.
- Use of contaminated needles, e.g. drug users.
- From mother to child: HIV can be transmitted from an infected woman to her baby during pregnancy (if not put on HAART), delivery and breastfeeding.
- Having unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV-positive person.
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The connection between HIV and AIDS
AIDS is caused by HIV damaging the immune system cells. This is the last stage of HIV infection, where the immune system can no longer fight off other infections that it would usually be able to prevent. If left untreated, it takes about ten years on average for someone with HIV to develop AIDS. This timeframe is based on the person with HIV having a well-balanced diet and not engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse. Someone who is malnourished may progress to AIDS rapidly.
Prevention of HIV
There is currently no cure or vaccine for HIV. Education about HIV and how it is spread is an essential part of prevention.
Starting HIV treatment
HIV infection is a chronic and manageable condition. People with HIV can live long and healthy lives with access to antiretroviral treatment. In South Africa, if you test and find you are HIV-positive, you will be started on ARV treatment immediately after diagnosis.
Types of tests
There are a number of tests that are used to find out whether a person is infected with HIV. These tests include the HIV antibody test, p24 antigen test, Elisa and rapid tests. A CD4 and viral blood test are used once a person has been diagnosed with HIV.
We all have questions.
Below are some of the answers to the most common questions around HIV.
What is usually the first sign of HIV?
After becoming infected with HIV, most patients only experience moderate flu-like symptoms. Typically, the illness is sudden in onset and is characterised by fever, swelling of the lymph glands, a measles-like rash all over the body, ulcers in the mouth and sometimes on the genitalia.
What are the 4 stages of HIV?
- Stage 1: Infection – Exposure to infected bodily fluids.
- Stage 2: Asymptomatic – HIV quickly spreads and the patient becomes seropositive for HIV antibodies.
- Stage 3: Symptomatic – The immune system is now engaged in a constant battle with the rapidly replicating virus.
- Stage 4: AIDS – At this stage, the patient’s CD4+ count is 200 cells per mm3 or less.
How soon can HIV be detected by a blood test?
No test can detect HIV immediately after infection. The time between initial infection and a detectable viral load is called the window period. It can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks to after exposure, to detect whether you are HIV-positive or not, depending on which testing method is used.
How long does it take to show symptoms of HIV?
Following initial infection, there is a period of intense, unchecked viral replication that occurs. It usually takes 2 to 4 weeks after infection and can last about 1 to 2 weeks, after which there tends to be a slight recovery, and the infected individual is considered to be seropositive for HIV antibodies.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV is transmitted from one person to another through the exchange of body fluids. The main method of transmission in South Africa is through unprotected sexual activity.
Does HIV test affect life insurance?
Being HIV-positive can affect standard life insurance policies, particularly if your status changes from HIV-negative to HIV-positive within a particular age range. That’s why AllLife covers all lives. Your HIV status doesn’t prevent you from getting cover with us.
Can HIV-positive women have children?
Yes, HIV-positive women can enjoy healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy HIV-negative babies, through the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme. PMTCT has been highly effective in reducing the HIV transmission risk to under 1%.
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HIV and pregnancy
The risk of passing HIV from mother to baby can be as low as 1 in 100 when the correct steps are taken.
The history of HIV treatment
How has antiretroviral therapy evolved over time?