According to UNAIDS, around 38 million people across the world were living with HIV in 2019. In the same year, reports suggest about 1.7 million new cases across the globe, a decline of 23% compared to 2010. Although these numbers are staggering, HIV/AIDS is no longer the death sentence that it once was.
HIV or human immunodeficiency virus weakens our immune system by targeting and destroying white blood cells that fight infections. HIV increases the risk of developing other illnesses and can soon progress to AIDS without proper treatment.
AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome is a chronic and life-threatening condition, the last stage of HIV infection.
Today with the progress in medicine, people diagnosed with HIV can live as long as those without HIV. Similarly, the life expectancy of those living with AIDS has gone up considerably.
The first step towards treating HIV/AIDS is detecting it. The earlier you diagnose, the better. Let us first take a peek into how you can diagnose HIV/AIDS.
You cannot depend on symptoms to tell you if you have HIV. The only sure-shot way to know your HIV status is by getting tested.
There are three primary tests for HIV,
Nucleic Acid Test or NATs
If you doubt having contact with someone with HIV, seek help immediately. The initial test will be an antigen or antibody test like ELISA. These tests check for antigens or antibodies that your body develops to fight HIV.
If you test positive for the initial test, your healthcare provider runs a follow-up test such as a NAT. A nucleic acid test searches for the specific virus and allows them to be sure that the diagnosis is correct.
Although there is still no cure for AIDS, modern medicine can now slow the progression of the disease to a large extent. These medications and therapies have considerably reduced the number of deaths due to HIV/AIDS.
The most effective treatment for AIDS today is Antiretroviral Therapy or ART, which is a combination of numerous medicines. ART prevents the patient from developing resistance to any particular drug while slowing the spread of the virus and reducing the amount of virus (viral load) in the body.
Today there are several types of Antiretroviral medications available, including:
Protease Inhibitors: HIV requires an enzyme called protease to multiply. These meds bind to this enzyme and prevent growth.
Integrase Inhibitors: Integrase is another enzyme that is essential for HIV to multiply. Integrase Inhibitors bind to Integrase and prevent replication of the virus. Doctors often suggest these as the first line of treatment for HIV patients due to their effectiveness in stopping the virus.
Nucleoside and nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitor: These meds block another enzyme called Nucleoside or Nucleotide reverse transcriptase.
Entry Inhibitors: Entry Inhibitors prevent HIV from entering the cells (T cells in particular), thus prevents replication of the virus.
PEP Emergency Pills
If you suspect you have come in contact with HIV, get in touch with a healthcare provider immediately. Your healthcare provider depending on the situation may prescribe PEP or post-exposure prophylaxis pills.
Although they aren't 100% effective, consuming PEP pills within 72 hours of exposure significantly reduces the risk of getting infected.
These pills fight the infection and stop the spread of the virus in your body.
To date, we have not discovered a vaccine to prevent an HIV infection. However, there are some practices you can adopt to prevent an HIV infection.
TasP or Treatment as Prevention refers to medications taken to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV.
HIV patients who effectively take TasP medications as prescribed have a minimal risk of transmitting HIV.
Using barrier protection such as condoms can considerably reduce the risks of contracting HIV infections. Using a new latex condom every time you have sex and choosing a water-based lubricant, if appropriate, can prevent HIV and other STIs.
Persons having high risks of being exposed to HIV can take PrEP or pre-exposure prophylaxis medications.
If you have paid attention in sex-ed classes, you might remember some ways to prevent STIs. These methods are also applicable in the prevention of HIV. Below are some additional preventive measures you can take,
Do not share needles. If you need syringes to inject drugs, use sterile and clean syringes.
Know your partner's HIV status.
Limit exposure to bodily fluids that may carry HIV.