World Aids Day: What You Need to Know

HIV/AIDS is a disease that is estimated to have caused about 40.1 million deaths worldwide since the first HIV outbreak in June 1981. Since the discovery of HIV, we’ve come a long way in reducing the number of deaths that it causes.

Part of this is due to improved HIV treatments, but another big part of combating HIV/AIDS has been due to the improved awareness regarding HIV prevention and early detection. It is for this reason that December 1 is recognized each year as World Aids Day and used as a means of promoting HIV/AIDS awareness.

To help further education on HIV prevention and early detection, let’s take a look at everything you need to know about HIV/AIDS, including what it is and what causes it, HIV and AIDS symptoms, and the importance of HIV testing.

What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV and AIDS are terms that are commonly used interchangeably, but they refer to two quite different things. HIV stands for “human immunodeficiency virus” and is the name of the virus that can cause aids. AIDS stands for “acquired immune deficiency syndrome” and is the name of a lethal condition that HIV can cause if left untreated.

However, someone who contracts HIV doesn’t automatically develop aids. Instead, it typically takes years or even decades for HIV to cause AIDS. Today, HIV treatments allow physicians to slow this development or even prevent it entirely. This is vital to prolonging the lives of those infected with HIV given the fact that people who develop AIDS typically only survive about three years.

Unlike many diseases, AIDS isn’t deadly due to the symptoms that it directly causes. Instead, AIDS is deadly due to the fact that it destroys the body’s immune system, leaving a person entirely unable to combat other diseases and infections. As for how HIV is spread, the virus is spread through contact with blood, semen, or vaginal fluids. In the vast majority of cases, HIV is transmitted via vaginal or anal sex, leading to HIV’s designation as an STD. However, HIV can also be spread through contact with infected blood, leading to a high rate of HIV transmission among drug users who share needles, syringes, and other drug injection equipment.

HIV/AIDS Symptoms

One of the problems with diagnosing and treating HIV is that the disease can often be difficult to detect. Once HIV develops into AIDS, the disease begins to present some pretty obvious symptoms. Until then, a person who is infected with HIV might not experience any symptoms at all. HIV tends to cause flu-like symptoms when it is first contracted, but these symptoms are commonly mistaken as being the flu or another illness. Once these symptoms pass, HIV may not cause any symptoms at all despite the fact that the virus is still present and still continuing to attack the body’s immune system.

Once HIV develops into AIDS, the disease starts to present some more noticeable symptoms. This includes symptoms such as:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Profuse night sweats
  • Recurring fever
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the groin, neck, or armpits
  • Prolonged diarrhea
  • Pneumonia
  • Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
  • Blotches on the skin, nose, eyelids, or inside the mouth
  • Depression, memory loss, and other neurological disorders

The Importance of HIV Testing

Since HIV often doesn’t present any noticeable symptoms until it has developed into AIDS, HIV testing is essential for diagnosing the disease early so that treatment can begin as soon as possible. HIV testing works by performing a NAT test on a blood sample to detect the presence of HIV and, if the patient is HIV positive, detect their viral load.

The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13-64 should get tested for HIV at least once. They also recommend yearly HIV testing for people with certain HIV risk factors. This includes people such as:

  • Anyone who has had vaginal or anal sex with someone who is HIV positive
  • Men who have sex with other men
  • Anyone who has had more than one sex partner since their last HIV test
  • Anyone who has shared needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment
  • Anyone who has exchanged sex for drugs or money
  • Anyone who has been diagnosed with or treated for another sexually transmitted disease
  • Anyone who has been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis or tuberculosis
  • Anyone who has had sex with someone who has done anything listed above
  • Anyone who has had sex with someone whose sexual history they do not know

If any of these risk factors apply to you then it is important not to neglect HIV testing. Early detection of HIV allows for treatments that can drastically slow the disease’s progression, both improving the quality of life and prolonging the average life expectancy for someone who is HIV positive. At St. Jude Labs, we are proud to offer timely and reliable HIV testing services. If you would like to schedule an appointment for HIV testing at our Maryland facility, be sure to contact us today.

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