The CDC or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2019, the total number of HIV-positive patients reached 1,189,700; 87% knew they had HIV infections. HIV is mainly a sexually transmitted infection or STI, but HIV can still infect others in various ways. Apart from protected sex and other precautions, pre- and post-exposure prevention can also help prevent HIV transmission.
What are the signs that you’re HIV positive? In this article, you will also learn the causes and effects of HIV on your health and tips to prevent HIV transmission.
What is HIV?
In 2020, there’s a 17% decrease in the number of new HIV infections in the US, reaching only 30,635. But despite these numbers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization still consider the HIV epidemic a significant public health issue. The human immunodeficiency virus of HIV is a virus that weakens a healthy immune system by destroying vital body cells in the body, such as the CD4 immune cells or white blood cells that fight disease and infections.
Did you know that the HIV infection came from chimpanzees in Eastern and Southern Africa? Experts said HIV is one of the infectious diseases that came from a chimpanzee virus called simian immunodeficiency virus or SIV. They believed that humans acquired the virus through direct contact with the blood of infected chimpanzees while hunting for food.
Being a sexually transmitted infection that affects both genders, performing unprotected anal or vaginal sex puts you at high risk of getting HIV. But there are other high-risk factors for transmitting HIV, such as:
- Direct contact with an infected’s body fluids
- Sharing injection drug equipment with other people
- Blood transfusions from an infected person
- Vaginal sex or other sexual activity with partners diagnosed with other sexually transmitted infections and
- During pregnancy, delivery, and breast milk of an HIV-positive mother
Effects of HIV on an Individual
Once HIV enters your system, it will gradually destroy the body’s immune cells and weaken the immune system, and then the virus progresses. How bad or how quickly HIV infection affects the body depends on the following:
- Overall health
- How early is the disease diagnosed and
- How soon the treatment started
With infectious diseases like HIV, early diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference. Without an HIV treatment, the person is at risk for severe illness and infection and may develop AIDS. The sooner a person receives treatment and HIV medications; their health will improve.
HIV’s effects on the body include:
- Opportunistic Infections – are viral, bacterial, and fungal infections that take advantage of a weak immune system. These infections include herpes, salmonella toxoplasmosis, oral or vaginal thrush pneumonia, etc.
- Coinfections – is where HIV-positive patients have two or more infections. The most common coinfections are tuberculosis and hepatitis B and C, which infect people similar to how HIV spreads from one to another.
- Mental Health Problems – patients are most likely to develop depression, anxiety, and cognitive disorders. Dealing with stress, stigma, and discrimination related to HIV and antiretroviral therapy and drugs affects the person’s mental health.
What are the HIV symptoms?
HIV’s symptoms will depend on its stage. Also, some HIV positives don’t develop symptoms, and the only way to find out if they’re infected is to do HIV testing. Here are the symptoms for each stage that you should be aware of.
Acute HIV Infection
It’s the primary stage of HIV, where people develop flu-like symptoms 2 to 4 weeks after getting infected. In this stage, the symptoms can be mild or almost unnoticeable, but your body’s viral load is already high. Symptoms that may last a few days up to a few weeks are:
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Night sweats
- Painful mouth sores
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph glands
- Weight loss
Chronic HIV Infections
The second stage of HIV is also called asymptomatic HIV infection or clinical latency, where patients who treat HIV may avoid moving to stage 3 but can still transmit HIV. For symptomatic HIV infection, other than the previous symptoms in stage 1, a person may experience the following:
- Oral yeast infection
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS
HIV AIDS is the most severe and life-threatening stage of HIV. It means a high viral load in their bloodstream, and they can easily transmit the disease to others. They also became more susceptible to opportunistic infections, cancer, and complications. If they don’t treat HIV, the infected person in this stage can only survive for about three years.
In addition to stage 1 symptoms, you can experience the following in this stage:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Frequent and unexplainable fatigue
- Regular white spots or unusual lesions on your tongue and mouth
- Recurring fever
- Skin rashes or bumps
Can HIV Be Treated?
According to recent World Health Organization data, over 38.4 million people are living with HIV. Currently, there’s no vaccine or cure for HIV, but with increased access to HIV testing, proper awareness, care, and treatment HIV has become a manageable chronic health status. After a positive blood test, a health provider will advise the patient to take antiretroviral therapy or ART to treat HIV.
ART involves taking HIV medications prescribed by health professionals. People living with HIV use antiretroviral therapy or ART to stop viral replication and allow the immune system to strengthen and heal to fight opportunistic infections and other illnesses like AIDS and cancers. Most patients can get the virus under control six months after starting the treatment.
Antiretroviral therapy is also effective in preventing HIV transmission to the patient’s sexual partners. This HIV treatment has two types, they are:
- Pills – are FDA-approved HIV medications and are only recommended to people who have just started an HIV treatment.
- Shots – are long-acting injections only given by a health care provider in a medical facility once a month. Shots are recommended for people with undetectable viral load for at least three months.
How To Prevent HIV?
Since there’s no effective medicine against HIV, being aware of prevention tips is a great way to protect yourself from HIV. If you have been diagnosed with HIV, the list below will help prevent HIV transmission to your sexual partners, family, and other people.
- If you’re at high risk of getting infected, you should get an HIV test. Testing or treating other sexually transmitted infections is also a great idea.
- Stop injecting drugs. If you do or it’s needed, ensure that all injection drug use equipment is clean and never share it with others.
- Expose yourself to prevention. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PeEP) is taking combinations of oral drugs daily or monthly injections to reduce the risk of getting HIV. If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, you should take post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) within 72 hours. The post-exposure prevention and medications for 28 days can prevent you from getting infected.
- As a person living with HIV, attending regular check-ups and taking HIV medications can prevent your sexual partners from getting infected. You should also ensure that your viral load will stay undetectable.
- Tell your condition to your loved ones. If you have been diagnosed, tell your partners to get tested immediately.
- Pregnant women that are infected can pass HIV to their babies. Tell your doctor immediately and get the treatment to save the baby.
- Voluntary medical male circumcision. It’s effective in preventing the transmission of HIV by safely removing the easily infected foreskin from the male genitalia.
- Attend prevention seminars, testing, and counseling by being aware of HIV, AIDS, and STI / STD.
Best Sexual Hygiene Practices to Prevent HIV Transmission
People pass HIV through skin-to-skin contact but being careful and using extra protection is a great help in stopping spreading HIV by having safe sex. Here is the list of practices that can limit the risk of HIV and other STIs.
- Before sex, talk with your sexual partners about your sexual history and get tested.
- Avoid any sexual activity while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Consider getting HPV, HEPA A, and B vaccines and pre-exposure prophylaxis medications.
- Always wear external or internal condoms correctly and have protected anal or vaginal sex.
- Use condoms and dental dams for oral sex. Ensure that they’re clean and not expired.
- Use gloves during masturbation or penetration. To keep the experience as realistic as possible, get gloves like Smitizen Realistic Silicone Male Gloves.
- Ensure that your hands and body are clean before and after sexual contact.
- Urinate after sex to prevent UTIs.
- Consider using toys or body suits with dildos, such as the Smitizen Muscle Suit with Dildo and Silicone Penis Pants. They look and feel realistic, easy to put on, and most importantly, safe to use.