HIV and AIDS
Who Should Be Tested for HIV?
Recently, the CDC changed testing recommendations. All adults should be screened at least once. People who are considered high risk (needle drug users, multiple sex partners, for example) should be tested more often. All pregnant women should be tested. Anyone who has sustained a needle stick or significant blood exposure from a person known to have HIV or from an unknown source should be tested, too.
Does HIV Have Symptoms?
Some people get flu-like symptoms within a month after they have been infected. These symptoms often go away within a week to a month. A person can have HIV for many years before feeling ill.
As the disease progresses, both women and men may experience yeast infections on the tongue (thrush), and women may develop severe vaginal yeast infections or pelvic inflammatory disease. Shingles is often seen early on, often before someone is diagnosed with HIV.
What Are the Symptoms of AIDS?
Signs that HIV is turning into AIDS include:
What Infections Do People With AIDS Get?
People with AIDS are extremely vulnerable to infection, called AIDS-defining illnesses, and often exhibit the following conditions:
- Kaposi's sarcoma, a skin tumor that looks like dark or purple blotches on the skin or in the mouth
- Mental changes and headaches caused by fungal infections or tumors in the brain and spinal cord
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing because of infections of the lungs
- Severe malnutrition
- Chronic diarrhea
How Is AIDS Diagnosed?
If a person with HIV infection has a CD4 count that drops below 200 -- or if certain infections appear (AIDS-defining illnesses) -- that person is considered to have AIDS.
How Is HIV Treated?
We've come a long way from the days when diagnosis with HIV equaled a death sentence. Today, there are a variety of treatments that, when used in combination can significantly slow down and in some cases stop altogether, the progression of HIV infection.
After HIV infection is confirmed, your doctor will start you on a drug regimen consisting of several drugs; combinations of different types of anti-HIV drugs sometimes are called HAART, for highly-active antiretroviral therapy (HIV is a kind of virus called a retrovirus).
Taking HAART therapy is very manageable yet isn’t necessarily easy. These drugs must be taken at the right time, every single day. Also, a range of side effects may occur, including: diarrhea, nausea, rash, vivid dreams, or abnormal distribution of body fat. And, especially if medications are taken incorrectly or inconsistently, the virus can mutate, or change, into a strain resistant to treatment. The good news is that there are now several HIV medications that are only taken once a day. If there is resistant virus, however, these may not work and other medication options must be used.
If your disease has progressed to AIDS, your treatment may also include drugs to combat and prevent certain infections.