At the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, it seemed that information about HIV and AIDS was everywhere. While HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus) is still very much an issue today, advances in drug therapy and longer life expectancies have taken a lot of the media buzz out of the issue, and it is no longer something that is a regular feature on the front pages of the newspaper. However, it seems that our modern need to always be moving on to the next thing may have caused us to forget a bit of the due diligence that is associated with preventing any sexually-transmitted infection, let alone one like HIV, for which there is no cure. The following overview is a reminder of the signs and symptoms that are often associated with an HIV infection, and a reminder of how to reduce your risk.
While between 40 and 90% of people who have become infected with HIV may develop flu-like symptoms within the first month, quite often, many people will display no symptoms at all, making it easy for them to be completely unaware that they are infected, and spread the infection to other people. In in interview for Health Magazine, Dr. Michael Horberg of the Kaiser Permanente HIV/AIDS programme in Oakland, California said that one in five people infected with HIV will be completely unaware that they have the virus.
While the flu-like symptoms that many people experience are not just limited to those above, a large proportion of the population will experience some type of flu-like illness within one month of initial infection with HIV. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and think that there may be even the smallest chance that you could be infected with HIV, you should get tested. HIV is most infective at its earliest stage, and you may risk infecting others if you are HIV positive.
Weight loss and a skin rash can occur at any stage of an HIV infection. However, if you are eating normally and still chronically losing weight, this may be a sign of a more advanced HIV infection. Chronic diarrhoea can also contribute to weight loss at a later stage of infection. A dry cough can also be a sign of later infection, although it too can occur at any time.
As with weight loss, skin rashes can occur at any time of an HIV infection, and are usually non-itchy, and distributed on the trunk, arms, and sometimes the face. Like with chronic weight loss, this is a sign of a compromised immune system.
If you have any of the following symptoms, it is imperative to get tested, even if you think there is a very small chance that you have HIV. There are a lot of less-serious illnesses and infections that can cause these symptoms and are easily treated, but HIV is incurable, and the earlier it is diagnosed, the more manageable your treatment will be.
Those at the highest risk for HIV infection include those who have sex with multiple partners (with and without a condom), those who engage in unprotected sex (vaginal, anal, or oral), and those who share or re-use needles to inject drugs or steroids. Using non-sterile needles for tattooing or piercing can also me a mode of transmission for HIV (however, it is rare), so if you engage in these activities, ensure that the establishment is using proper sterilisation technique. Lastly, research indicates that having had a sexually-transmitted infection in the past puts you at greater risk for HIV, underscoring the importance of practicing safe sex and getting tested regularly.
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