What is HIV?
HIV is a virus for which there is currently no cure. Unlike bacteria which can be treated with antibiotics, no such treatment exists for HIV. Once you contract the virus you have HIV for life. However, with today’s advances in medicine and treatments, patients who take their medications regularly for HIV typically live a long and healthy life.
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. If left untreated, the virus attacks the immune system leaving a person susceptible to infections which a healthy immune system would normally fight off. The longer a person has HIV without treatment, the weaker the immune system gets until it is so weak, the patient is defined as having AIDS. With today’s advances in medicine, even AIDS can be treated with proper medication and physician observance. In our clinic, HIV patients are one of the healthiest group of patients we see. This is from establishing close relationships with our providers, being consistent in checkups, and compliance at home by taking medications.
The medicine used to treat HIV is called antiretroviral therapy, or ART. Providers at Ocala Infectious Disease have good experience with ART and are also able to help obtain assistance for patients so that their treatments are affordable.
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The Goal of Undetectable
When taking ART, HIV can become undetectable. That means that the virus is so little in the body that it is not even detected by blood-work. This is the goal of antiretroviral therapy. It does not mean you do not have AIDS, but it is as close as a patient can get.
How Can I Afford ART for the Rest of My Life?
With assistance programs which we actively work for patients to access, most medications can get covered or at a very low copay which is affordable to the patient. Being consistent in your medication is integral to living the healthiest and longest life possible.
Why Consistency in Meds Matters
If you have HIV and are being treated, you have been given some sort of ART medication to reduce the amount of HIV found in your body. When ART is effective, your viral load will decrease, as should your symptoms. It may be easy to say, once your symptoms have reduced, you no longer need to take the medication. This is not true. HIV is a lifelong illness, and taking your medication consistently will keep HIV in check, even to a place where it stays dormant. Consistency in your ART will keep your immune system healthy and it will keep your partner(s) safe. it will also help prevent HIV from resisting the medication.
You Can Live a Normal Life
You can live a normal life with HIV. There are a few extra things you need to think about. People living with HIV have the ability to live a relatively normal and comfortable life, but extra precautions should be taken in order to ensure their health. Some of these precautions are keeping yourself free from potential infections (staying away from things like cat litter, animal feces, wild birds, etc), make sure you get the right immunizations and practice safe sex.
What if I Think I Have Been Exposed to HIV?
It usually takes about three months for the HIV virus to replicate in the body to where it is detectable on tests. If you believe you have been exposed to the virus, you should see a health care provider immediately to start on antiviral therapy and lessen your chance of developing the virus.
Should I Get Tested?
The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. Testing is simple. Ask your health care provider for an HIV test or make an appointment today to see one of our providers. All information is strictly confidential.
PrEP – Pre-exposure Prophylaxis
The newest way to prevent from contracting HIV/AIDs.
PrEP is Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, which is the use of anti-HIV medications to keep HIV negative people from being infected. PrEP is approved by the FDA and is proven to be both safe and effective in the prevention of HIV. If you have more than one sexual partner, your partner has HIV, or you have been exposed to HIV through injection drug use, you should talk to a doctor about PrEP. If you are taking PrEP, you must take it consistently. Consistency in this medication is vital for its effectiveness.
PrEP does not protect people from other STDs and safe sex should be continued as well.
Stages of HIV
Acute Phase of HIV
Within 2-4 weeks after HIV infection, many people can develop flu-like symptoms. Symptoms can include fever, swollen glands, sore throat, rash, muscle, and joint aches and pains, and headache. This is called “acute retroviral syndrome” (ARS) or “primary HIV infection,” it’s the body’s natural response to the HIV infection. Many people may mistake this acute phase as a cold or flu.
During this initial phase of infection, you are at high risk of transmitting HIV to your sexual or drug-using partners because the levels of HIV in your bloodstream is very high. For this reason, diagnosis early on is very important.
Clinical Latency Stage
After the acute stage of HIV, the disease moves into a latency stage. During the latency stage, people who are infected with HIV experience mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all. During the clinical latency stage, the virus continues to reproduce at very low levels, although it is still active.
AIDS is the stage of HIV infection which occurs when your immune system is badly damaged and you become vulnerable to opportunistic infections. When the number of your CD4 cells falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (200 cells/mm3), you are considered to have AIDS. You are also considered to have AIDS if you develop one or more opportunistic illnesses, regardless of your CD4 count. Without treatment, people who are diagnosed with AIDS typically survive about 3 years. Once someone has a dangerous opportunistic illness, life expectancy without treatment falls to about 1 year. People with AIDS are typically diagnosed with HIV while in the hospital for an acute severe illness and did not know they had HIV. Other people may have AIDS by not taking antiretroviral therapy. With the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy, AIDS is almost never seen in a patient who takes their medications regularly.
Factors Affecting Disease Progression
People living with HIV progress depending on a variety of factors, including their genetic makeup, how healthy they were before they were infected, how soon after infection they are diagnosed and linked to care and treatment, whether they see their healthcare provider regularly and take their HIV medications as directed, and different health-related choices they make, such as decisions to eat a healthy diet, exercise, and not smoke.
Factors that delay or prevent HIV from becoming AIDS
- Taking antiretroviral therapy consistently
- Staying in regular HIV care
- Closely adhering to your doctor’s recommendations
- Eating healthy foods
- Taking care of yourself
- Your genetic background
By making healthy choices, you have good control over the progression of HIV infection.