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What you have to know about the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

What you have to know about the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

access_timeFebruary 26, 2016 05:50 pm

Living with HIV is not at all a conviction. The gigantic scientific advances of recent years give us more and more information that translate into faster tests and more efficient treatment. Today all this allows optimum quality of life for both people living with HIV and their loved ones.

The human immunodeficiency virus is, as its name indicates, a virus that weakens or destroys the cells that make up the immune system. A virus is a microscopic organism that can cause disease and infection and can only live and reproduce in living cells within the body. The immune system protects the body against foreign organisms and is composed of various types of cells and organs that are scattered throughout the body.
At present there are two different types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2.

Let's look at the similarities and differences:


• Both types of viruses attack the immune system.
• They have the same transmission routes (blood, semen, genital secretions, breast milk)
• Both types of viruses can cause AIDS. However, HIV-2 causes it to a lower extent.


• HIV-1 emerged a decade earlier than HIV-2. It is the most common and is responsible for the global pandemic.
• HIV-2 progresses more slowly and the incubation period is longer. It is less aggressive and the probability of transmission is lower. The type of virus is usually in West Africa and exhibits a lower mortality rate.



How is the virus spread?

There are 3 modes of transmission:

• Sexually: Having unprotected sex and contact with blood, semen and vaginal or anal secretions. To reduce the risk, latex or polyurethane condom should be used and serve with water-based lubricants or silicone having both vaginal and anal sex. Condoms made of natural materials (lambskin, etc.) are not effective in preventing the passage of the virus. Lubricants are also important in preventing both condom breakage and possible injury to the rectum or vagina. It is important not to practice unprotected vaginal sex during menstruation. Similarly, it is important to avoid contact with semen during oral sex.
• Blood-Exposure: Contact to blood through the use of shared syringes and needles, blood transfusions or accidents where exposure to blood is taken.
• Vertical transmission (mother to child): When a woman living with HIV transmitting the virus to her child / a childbirth, pregnancy and lactation.


• If women receiving antiretroviral therapy in pregnancy, the risk of transmission is lower.
• If the woman has very little HIV in their blood (undetectable viral load), you can perform a normal delivery.
• Women can breastfeed if she and / or baby are on antiretroviral treatment. It is important to always consult a doctor because in certain circumstances it is recommended to use a substitute for breast milk.
• Newborn babies, children of mothers with HIV receive treatment for the virus for six weeks after birth to further reduce the risk of infection.
HIV is not transmitted through the air, water, saliva, hair, insect bites, animal bites, physical contact like passing hands, hugging, kissing, sharing cups, plates or other equipment.


How do I know if I have the virus?
Before taking any test, it is important to wait 15 days to 3 months after a risk. This period of time is known as window period. Why do you have to wait? Because since the virus enters the body until it is detectable in the blood after a certain time. Therefore, if a study is performed immediately after the risk will be unreliable.
Are there any symptoms?
There are no specific symptoms that indicate the presence of HIV in the body. The weeks following exposure may occur flu-like symptoms with fever, sore throat, fatigue, rash, headache. These symptoms can be confused with various diseases, which is why it is critical studies conducted to confirm the infection.
After waiting the recommended days, the person can take the Quick Test, which, as its name suggests provides results in 15 minutes. It is administered free and confidentially at any medical center of the Ministry of Health and the SOMOSGAY Clinic Kuimba’e.
If the test result is positive, it must be confirmed by another test (Elisa) and/or other study name Western Blot. All for free. If the presence of HIV is tested after the tests, you should begin antiretroviral therapy. The result is always confidential.


What if I know I live with HIV?

By knowing your diagnosis, your doctor will ask two tests:
• count of CD-4 cells, and
• viral load test.
All this before starting therapy.
What counts CD-4 cells?
The CD-4 cells are a type of white blood cells. They are also called T helper cells because they help other cells to eliminate infectious agents. The CD-4 cells are destroyed by HIV so its count helps detect infection. We recommend starting antiretroviral therapy when the cell count of about 350.
Among the most important cells of the immune system are the white blood cells that recognize and destroy infectious agents. 


Adherence to treatment (follow antiretroviral therapy as prescribed by the doctor) → undetectable viral load → lower risk of HIV transmission → less chance of acquiring opportunistic infections → less risk of virus will develop resistance to drugs.


Achieve an undetectable viral load, following a steady and responsible treatment ensures full and optimum life. Being properly informed is always the first step in to demolish fears and take care of one's health and family.

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Norma Flores Allende

Redactora, SOMOSGAY.