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AIDS

Living with HIV / AIDS

Definition

HIV and AIDS have become very familiar terms in medical and health community. But what do they mean?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. While many viruses can be controlled by the immune system, HIV targets and infects the same immune system cells that are supposed to protect us from illnesses; in particular, a type of white blood cell called CD4 cells. HIV conquers the immune system and takes over CD4 cells, transforming them into virus factories. As the virus multiplies, it damages or kills CD4, thus weakening the immune system.

AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. When someone dies of AIDS, it is usually due to other infections or other long-term effects of HIV infection that cause death. The body's immune system is compromised, and so it can no longer stop minor infections or diseases from developing and becoming deadly.

Symptoms

Most people cannot tell whether they have been exposed or infected by HIV. It can take up to 12 weeks for an HIV test to come back positive. However, some people respond much faster. Within two to four weeks of exposure to HIV, you might have flu-like symptoms such as fever, swollen glands, muscle aches or rash.

Identification of HIV

The most common test for HIV is the antibody test (called ELISA). It can be done on blood, saliva or urine. According to the CDC, it is more than 99 percent accurate. Results are generally available within two weeks, though there is a rapid ELISA test that gives results in less than half an hour.

A positive result means the body has developed antibodies for HIV, so the person is infected with the virus. To be completely certain, positive results are confirmed with a more sensitive test called the Western blot.

A negative result means the body has not developed antibodies and is probably not infected. To get truly accurate results, it's necessary to wait three to six months after the last possible exposure to the virus before being tested. That is because the immune system can take anywhere from 3 to 12 weeks to make antibodies. In this window period, someone may get an unclear result or a false negative.

Tests to identify HIV can be obtained at a doctor's office, a clinic or at a hospital. In addition, many states offer anonymous HIV testing. You can also purchase a kit that allows you to collect your own blood sample, send it to a lab for testing and receive the results anonymously. (Only the Home Access brand kit is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.)

Treatment

HIV drugs can improve quality of life and help HIV-positive people stay healthier longer. Some of the drugs used to combat HIV / AIDS are antiretrovirals (ARVS) and ARV didanosine. Commitment to the treatment is as important as the drugs themselves. This takes a combination of support from family, friends and community, as well as knowledge about HIV and the right attitude. Having the right doctor is also important; doctors who specialize in HIV are best equipped to manage this complicated condition.

By Haizrin Abd. Rahman

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