How do you know if you’re at risk of contracting HIV? What are the early signs and symptoms to look out for that could indicate the presence of HIV? Here, we’ll examine some of the more uncommon warning signs and risk factors of HIV in order to give you an idea of what to look out for so that you can seek treatment as soon as possible if needed.
Introduction to HIV In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of people living with HIV in the United States, especially among gay and bisexual men and African Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you are at risk of contracting HIV or are experiencing symptoms of HIV, it’s important to be tested regularly.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks your body’s immune system, leaving it more vulnerable to infections and diseases as time goes on. When you first become infected with HIV, your immune system doesn’t show any symptoms of being under attack, which makes it difficult to know if you have HIV. Fortunately, there are signs and risk factors of HIV that can help you detect the virus as soon as possible so you can seek treatment and improve your long-term health outlook.
What is HIV?
HIV is a virus that infects and kills CD4 cells. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. CD4 cells are a type of white blood cell that help keep your immune system healthy. When someone is infected with HIV, their body attacks these infected cells. Over time, HIV destroys so many CD4 cells that it compromises your body’s immune system, which makes you more vulnerable to infections and certain cancers.
If left untreated, it can eventually lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). When AIDS develops, a person has an abnormally low number of CD4 cells in their blood — fewer than 200 per microliter — along with one or more opportunistic infections or cancers not usually seen in people with healthy immune systems…
Phase 1: Acute HIV Infection
HIV is transmitted through sex or by exposure to infected blood. It can also be passed from a mother to her unborn child during pregnancy, labor, or delivery. Acute HIV infection is often referred to as primary HIV infection. This means it’s one of your first signs that you’ve been infected with HIV.
Other symptoms include swollen lymph nodes in your neck or armpits; nausea; diarrhea; rash; mouth sores; vaginal discharge in women; rash in children under age 10. If you experience any of these symptoms while at risk for contracting HIV (such as unprotected sex), seek medical attention immediately.
Some signs of stage one HIV include:
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Sore throat and painful mouth sores
- Swollen lymph glands
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
Phase 2: Clinical Latency
A person can be infected with HIV for months or even years before any symptoms appear. During this time, a person is said to have clinical latency or is silent positive. Since there are no common symptoms during clinical latency, most people with it do not know they are infected. Studies show that people with clinical latency account for a significant percentage of new infections every year—probably more than 50%.
If you want to protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases (STD), including HIV, you should always use a condom correctly and correctly use PrEP. Using either one can lower your risk by as much as 90%. However, they don’t offer total protection.
Phase 3: AIDS
When a person is infected with HIV, it often means that they are also infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS. There are a few signs that may point to possible infection. Being in close contact with an infected person can increase your risk of contracting it, but unprotected sex is usually how it spreads.
Other infectious factors like pregnancy can cause symptoms to appear at an earlier stage than usual. Children under 13 should be tested regularly because their bodies aren’t fully developed. Always see a doctor if you experience any unusual symptoms, even if they don’t seem concerning—they could be pointing to something more serious. According to Mayo Clinic, these are medical problems that usually wouldn’t cause illness in someone with a healthy immune system. Unfortunately, someone with AIDS who does not receive treatment typically has a survival rate of three years.
Other Ways HIV Attacks the Body
HIV attacks the body in various ways. Some people develop swollen lymph nodes, called generalized lymphadenopathy, while others experience frequent fevers, coughs or so re throats. Still others have problems with memory, concentration or other cognitive problems. HIV can even affect your vision: a condition called uveitis may be caused by the virus.
Not every person infected with HIV experiences these symptoms, but you should see your doctor if you notice any unusual health issues that don’t respond to treatment. If you suspect you’ve been exposed to HIV or AIDS, get tested as soon as possible; testing is critical because it helps reduce transmission rates among those who know they’re at risk and start treatment quickly.
An early warning sign of HIV is an acute retroviral syndrome, which refers to a collection of flu-like symptoms that occur when an individual’s immune system begins to attack the body’s infected cells. While it can be uncomfortable, the acute retroviral syndrome is not dangerous. A more serious symptom is lymphadenopathy—swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin. This can indicate possible infection with other illnesses such as tuberculosis or mononucleosis. More uncommon signs include fever, night sweats, and unexplained weight loss or fatigue.
The following medical conditions are what some people experienced in the early stages of HIV:
- Esophageal candida
- Cytomegalovirus of the gut or liver
- Herpes zoster (shingles)
- HIV wasting syndrome
- Severe gastric bleeding
- Gallbladder inflammation
- Kidney failure
- Herpes-related infection
A risk factor is anything that increases your chances of getting a disease such as cancer, heart disease, or HIV. In other words, it’s anything that increases your risk. If you have more than one risk factor for a particular condition, it can greatly increase your chances of developing that condition. Risk factors are often divided into controllable and non-controllable categories. For example, smoking is a controllable risk factor for lung cancer.
The World Health Organization says the following behaviors and conditions increase your risk for HIV:
- Having unprotected sex.
- Those with other sexually transmitted infections such as syphyllis, herpes, chlamydia, etc.
- Sharing contaminated needles, syringes, and other equipment.
- Receiving unsafe injections, blood transfusions and tissue transplantation.
- Medical procedures that involve unsterile cutting or piercing.
- Accidental needle stick injuries, including among health workers.
Demographics Most at Risk
Approximately 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV (with an estimated 50,000 to 75,000 new infections occurring each year), but only about half are aware they have it. The vast majority of these undiagnosed cases can be attributed to high-risk behaviors among gay men, African-Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, transgender individuals, prisoners, and drug users/dealers.
Recent research suggests that there’s a greater prevalence of undiagnosed cases in some demographics—such as young Black men—than in others: According to estimates from 2003 data, for example, 13 percent of black men in their 20s have been infected with HIV at some point in their life.
HIV Treatment Options
What if I told you that there was a drug that could not only reduce your risk of contracting HIV but also protect you from pregnancy? Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, women are using just such a drug—known as Truvada—to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
Because exposure is especially high among sex workers and transgender women in these regions, these populations have been targeted for treatment. The hope is that education about how to use Truvada for prevention as well as a treatment it will help stop its spread. But as great an innovation, as it is, Truvada isn’t free or cheap—and many can’t afford to pay out of pocket for it.
Will There Ever Be a Cure for HIV?
At present, there is no known cure for HIV. There are medications to treat it, and there is a vaccine that can prevent it in some cases, but we don’t know how to eliminate HIV altogether. In recent years, studies have indicated that something called broadly neutralizing antibodies (BNAbs) could be effective against HIV in people who haven’t yet been infected with the virus. Several BNAbs have been shown to function against many different strains of HIV-1.
This means a single BNAb could theoretically be used to inoculate someone without having to produce a whole new vaccine for each strain of HIV-1—one-shot potentially does all! The woman is living off HIV medication and is said to be asymptomatic and healthy. Despite this progress, researchers are remaining cautious and prefer using the term “remission” instead of “cure” at this point in time. While more work needs to be done, these strides in research are certainly steps in the right direction.
If you feel that you may be at risk for HIV, it is in your best interest to get tested. If a positive diagnosis is made, there are medications that can help keep it under control until a cure can be found. Even if you aren’t sure whether or not you have contracted HIV, early treatment is important to reduce your chances of spreading it to others. When in doubt, get tested!
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If you suspect that you have contracted HIV, visit your doctor for an examination. They will be able to determine whether or not it is a positive diagnosis, and if so, they can give you more information about what your next steps should be. The first thing your doctor will do is perform a test to confirm if you are carrying it.
This is done by taking a sample of blood from your arm. They will then use antibodies in their system to test for HIV antibodies. If there are no antibodies found in your system, then it means that you do not have HIV; however, if antibodies are present then it means that an infection has already taken place or there is a strong chance that one did take place.
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