What is HIV?
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) causing virus. What HIV does is that it attacks T4 or CD4 cells, which are the white blood cells that allow your immune system to fight infections and diseases. HIV essentially attacks and breaks down your immune system, making you very vulnerable to other infections and diseases.
HIV can be found in the blood, semen, or vaginal fluids of an infected person. Today there are three primary ways in which a person can contract HIV:
- Having sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) with an infected person
- Sharing needles or syringes with an HIV positive person
- An HIV positive mother, can pass the virus to her baby during birth or through breast feeding
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that of the 35,544 new HIV cases in 2007, 17,507 of them were amongst African Americans, representing 49% of the new cases.
Once the body is infected, your immune system begins to produce antibodies, which are immune system chemicals that identify foreign bodies (viruses, bacteria, etc) and triggers your body's attempt to defend itself. What most HIV tests do is not test for the virus itself, but test for evidence of these antibodies.
Most HIV tests use blood, but there are a few that use oral fluids (not saliva) or urine. The various types of HIV test available for use within the U.S. are listed below. The most common screening is the enzyme immunoassay (EIA), which generally uses blood drawn from a vein. This test looks for antibodies of the virus. Should the EIA test prove positive it will be followed up with a confirmatory test to verify the positive diagnosis.
An EIA can also be done using oral fluids, in which case it is called an Oral Fluid Tests. In this particular test oral fluid (not saliva) is taken from the mouth using a special device. This test is also checks for HIV antibodies just like the EIA blood test.
The third type of EIA test is the Urine Tests. Like the Oral Fluids and Blood tests, the urine test determines whether or not there is a presence of the HIV antibodies. However, it is not as reliable as the blood and oral fluids tests.
A rapid test is a screening test that gives a result in about 20 minutes. This test uses blood or oral fluid, to search for the HIV antibodies. Just as positive EIA test must be followed up with a confirmatory test, so must a positive rapid test.
Home Testing Kits
At this time only the home testing kit that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the Home Access HIV-1 Test System. The actual kit is more of a home collection than a home testing kit, because it entails that the user pricks a finger with the provided device, put a few drops of blood on the treated card included in the kit, and then mail the card in to be tested at a certified laboratory. The user can then call in for the test results, but should not expect this to be a test that gives instant results. If the test yields positive results, then the user.
A RNA test searches for genetic material of HIV and is used in cases of early infection when an EIA cannot sense the HIV antibodies.
To find a location where you may be tested, ask your physician or visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's HIV testing database.
There is no cure for HIV, but there is a treatment that seeks to suppress the HIV symptoms for long as possible. This treatment is known as highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART), which essentially looks to decrease the amount of the virus in your blood through the use of three or more anti-retroviral drugs.
Because many anti-retroviral drugs do have side-effects, it is very important for you to actively communicate with your physician how you are feeling and any changes you may be noticing in your body. The point of HIV treatment is to protect your quality of life by being as aggressive as possible with as few side-effects as possible.
In addition to receiving medical treatment it is advised that you change your lifestyle as well. You want to limit your exposure to viruses and bacteria as well as keep your immune system as healthy as possible. Here a few things to consider:
- Keep up with your immunizations. These may protect you from infections such as pneumonia and the flu, which are much more severe in HIV-positive people.
- If you smoke or use illicit drugs stop. These will only make your body weaker and more vulnerable to infection.
- Eat a balanced and nutritious diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Because there are times you may not have an appetite and because the way your body digests food may change, speak with your physician about taking a multivitamin to ensure you're getting the nutrients you need.
- Avoid uncooked and unpasteurized foods, because they may put you at risk of infection.
- Drink pure water (boiled, bottled, or filtered through reverse osmosis).
- Exercise regularly to maintain your strength and energy levels.
- Make sure that you're getting plenty of sleep.
- Carefully maintain the health and hygiene of all your pets because pets may carry parasites that cause infections in HIV-positive individuals.
- Make sure you are keeping your hands clean by either constantly washing them or using a alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you're unable to use soap and water.
- Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends, family, healthcare professionals, and/or a formal support group. It is much easier to come to terms and deal with a life-threatening illness when you have the right people supporting you.
An HIV-positive mother can transmit HIV to her fetus or baby during the actual pregnancy, during labor, or through breastfeeding. This is known as perinatal transmission. In the U.S. perinatal transmission is the largest cause of HIV infection among children.
According to the CDC, about 25 percent of people infected with HIV aren't even aware of it. It is advised that pregnant women be tested, if the results are positive then the mother can begin therapy that improves her health and dramatically lowers the risk of transmission to her baby. Without the retroviral therapy, the CDC estimates that about one fourth of HIV positive mothers will transmit the virus to their child.
Fortunately there are ways in which a mother can decrease the risk of passing the virus on to her child.