HIV is perhaps the most common disease we think of when it comes to STIs. However, people are often more familiar with myths and stereotypes associated with the retrovirus than the facts. Many don’t understand what exactly HIV could do to their bodies and how it is related to AIDS. First of all, HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus; it is a virus that infects and kills a specific type of immune cells –CD4 cells, also known as Helper-T cells, which are responsible for fighting off infection and disease in human bodies.
When first contracting HIV, one can experience several weeks of fever, sore throat, and muscle pain around a month after contracting the virus, due to immediate increased viral load. HIV is often then latent for months or years, depleting Helper-T cells without noticeable symptoms, before developing into AIDS–Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome. At this point, especially if not previously diagnosed and treated, HIV has destroyed one’s immune system, leaving the body highly susceptible to any kind of invasion.
HIV can be passed from person to person if an infected individual has unprotected sex or shares injection needles with another person. Also, babies born to women with HIV can become infected during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding. You CANNOT get HIV from simply being around an infected individual or sharing a drink or meal with that person. There is only a very small chance of getting HIV from French-kissing or oral sex (approximately .04% chance per contact), though if you have a sore or lesion in your mouth, there is a possibility for blood contact.
Abstinence is the surest way to avoid contacting HIV sexually, but a monogamous relationship with a tested and uninfected partner could also be a solution. Also, even if your partner is tested, always use protection when engaging in sexual activities. You should never share needles, razors, or toothbrushes with others because there could be some remaining blood on them.
Today, if HIV is discovered through testing, it is no longer the death sentence it formerly was perceived to be, allowing most HIV positive individuals to take medications that allow them to live mostly unchanged lives. However, if undetected or untreated, HIV/AIDS can quickly shave years off one’s life. HIV remains dormant in the body for many years and there are no apparent symptoms during dormancy. The only way to know for sure if you’re infected IS TO GET TESTED. An HIV negative test can be temporary, but, at this point, an HIV positive test is for life. You can expect to have accurate results if you get tested 3 months after exposure.
Schedule an appointment for STI screening at Dick’s House with a provider by calling the Dick’s House appointment office at 603-646-9401. If you are not having any symptoms, STI screening typically involves obtaining a urine sample to check for Chlamydia and doing an oral swab for HIV testing. Please do not urinate one hour prior to the appointment, so you can check for both Chlamydia and HIV with one appointment. You can expect to have accurate Chlamydia results 3 weeks after exposure and accurate HIV results 3 months after exposure.
All information from cdc.gov/hiv