World AIDS Day: Top 10 FAQs On HIV Answered!

world AIDS day

December 1st is observed as World AIDS Day. The theme for 2019 is “Communities make the difference”. This year the aim is to highlight the difference that communities are making to end the HIV epidemic along with drawing global attention to the need for strengthening primary health care in human immunodeficiency virus infection (HIV) and Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).   

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HIV/AIDS is one of the major public health concerns as it has claimed more than 32 million lives. As per the reports, in the year 2018, approximately 37.9 million people living with HIV[1]. Although there has been a significant decrease in the number of cases of HIV, there still needs to be an improvement in the treatment and quality of life of HIV-infected people. And of the simple and effective ways to achieve this is to raise proper awareness about the condition. So on this World AIDS day, we answer some of the frequently asked questions about HIV/AIDS to help everyone understand about the condition.

10 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) On HIV Answered!

1. What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

Most of us use the terms HIV infection and AIDS interchangeably, however, technically both are not the same. HIV means human immunodeficiency virus whereas AIDS is a condition in which a person suffering from HIV infection starts to show symptoms. In simple terms, HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and makes you prone to infections causing HIV infection. If an HIV infection is not treated, it can turn into a full blown disease known as AIDS, which is the advanced stage of HIV infection.

2. What does HIV positive mean?

A person who undergoes HIV diagnosis and tests positive is known as HIV positive. This means that the HIV virus is present in the body and virus can cause an infection and lead to AIDS.  However, being an HIV positive person doesn’t indicate that you suffer from AIDS. This is because, the virus can remain dormant for many years before it can cause an infection. 

In fact, you can delay the progression of the condition into AIDS if the diagnosis is done at the right time and the treatment is started at the earliest. Moreover, a person tested HIV positive can lead a normal life with the help of medications, antiretroviral therapy and a few lifestyle measures all of which are aimed to prevent progression of HIV infection to AIDS. Get in touch with your doctor to know about it.

3. How long does it take for HIV to cause AIDS?

Well, the exact time taken for an HIV infection to progress into full-blown AIDS depends solely on the person and hence, it differs from one person to another. Some people might develop the symptoms within 5 years post an infection, where in some cases, it may take around 15 years for the symptoms to appear. Also, if you are tested positive for HIV, then undergoing the treatment can further delay the progression of HIV to AIDS. So it is difficult to say how long it takes for a person with HIV infection to suffer from AIDS.

4. What is usually the first sign of HIV?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you may experience flu-like symptoms within two to four weeks after initial exposure. The symptoms which include fever, headache and sore throat may continue for up to several weeks. However, in some cases, these symptoms might disappear within the first few weeks. As the infection progresses, the common symptoms that develop include frequent yeast infections like oral thrush and vaginal infections (in women), diarrhea, persistent skin rashes, weight loss, genital and anal sores, swollen lymph nodes, etc.

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5. Can the virus spread from kissing or a mosquito bite?

There is a popular belief that you can get HIV from kissing or casual contact such as shaking hands, hugging or sneezing and coughing. Also, using the same toilet as the one used by an HIV infected person or drinking from the same glass of an infected person was a common misconception. However, this is not true because the virus does not live in sweat, saliva, urine or tears, so casual contact with any of these bodily fluids does not spread HIV infection. It is the reason why the HIV virus cannot be transmitted from an insect or mosquito bite. 

The only ways HIV can spread is through unprotected sexual intercourse or sharing sexual fluids (vaginal secretions and semen) through oral or anal sex. It can also be spread through transfusion of blood contaminated with the virus, sharing of infected needles (tattoos, body piercing or injectable drugs), or from an HIV-infected mother to her child.

6. When should I get tested for HIV?

Usually, it is recommended to get tested for HIV virus after three months of possible exposure. This is because the test results might show false results if you test before three months of exposure to the virus, which is known to be the window period. The window period is the time after the exposure to the virus that the body does not show the presence of antibodies (immune cells) against the HIV virus, which is around 90 days. So it is advised that one should get tested for HIV only after 90 days or 3 months post exposure. Here’s more on HIV testing and who should get tested.

7. Where can I get tested for HIV?

There are many Government run testing centers in all cities and towns. You can even visit your doctor or go to any Government-run hospital to get tested for HIV. In some areas, there are community-level testing centers such as Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres (ICTC) for HIV testing. You can even buy a home testing kit online or book a lab test online to get tested for HIV infection.

8. If I test negative for HIV does that mean I don’t suffer from HIV?

There are cases of false positive results when the tests are done during the ‘window period’. For confirmed results, a person should get tested after three months of possible exposure to HIV.  Also if you test negative, but are not satisfied with the test result, you can get tested for the virus after six months.

If you are experiencing any of the HIV symptoms or are susceptible to various infections then do get tested for HIV. When in doubt, consult a doctor, who is the right person to help you out with diagnosis and let you know about you HIV status. 

9. How to prevent HIV?

There are few general and basic prevention techniques to lower your risk of becoming infected with HIV. This includes abstinence from sex, limiting your number of sexual partners, never sharing needles, and using condoms the right way every time you have sex. In addition to this, talk to your doctor about post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which also help to prevent HIV.

10. Is there a cure for HIV?

There is no cure for HIV. However, with appropriate antiretroviral therapy, the progression of the viral infection can be reduced. As of now, only medications and antiretroviral therapy are found to be effective in dealing with the HIV infection. With counselling and psychological intervention, the quality of life of a person with HIV can be improved. 

Unfortunately, a person diagnosed with HIV has to take medications for the rest of their life. However, there might be changes in the concentration of the drugs that are recommended as the condition progresses. This is the reason why regular health check-ups is also a must for people with HIV.

(The article is reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor)

Recommended Reads:

World AIDS Day: 6 Facts About AIDS That You Should Know

World AIDS Day: Why HIV Testing And Diagnosis Is Important?

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