The Ultimate Guide To HIV/AIDS

What Is HIV?

HIV (Human ImmunoDeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system of the body (CDC, 2022). If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome) (CDC, 2022).

Common Sexually Transmitted Infections

HPV

Genital Herpes

Chlamydia

Gonorrhoea

HIV/AIDS

Syphilis

Trichomoniasis

Viral Hepatitis

Male Urethritis Syndrome

HIV

Quick Facts About HIV

✔ HIV continues to be a major global public health issue. So far, this virus has killed between 33.6 to 48.6 million lives (WHO, 2022).

✔ There is no cure for an HIV infection. But we can now manage living with HIV. People can now lead long and healthy lives by suppressing the virus with antiretrovirals (ARVs) (WHO, 2022).

✔ HIV is a retrovirus, it infects cells of the human immune system (mainly CD4-positive T-cells and macrophages) and destroys or harms their functioning. Infection with this virus overtime weakens the immune system, leading to immunodeficiency (WHO, 2022).

✔ HIV can be found in body fluids, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk (UNAIDS).

✔ HIV is not transmitted very efficiently, so the risk of infection through a single act of vaginal sex is low (UNAIDS).

✔ Transmission through anal sex has been reported to be 10 times higher than by vaginal sex. A person with an untreated sexually transmitted infection, particularly involving ulcers or discharge, is, on average, six to 10 times more likely to pass on or acquire HIV during sex (UNAIDS).

Quick Facts About AIDS

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (UNAIDS).

✔ AIDS describes a collection of symptoms and infections (UNAIDS).

✔ An infection with HIV that is untreated will progress over 8 to 10 years into a late stage of an HIV infection known as AIDS (UNAIDS).

Who Is Most At Risk For HIV In South Africa?

HIV is very common in South Africa:

South Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV worldwide (Zuma et al., 2022). Approximately 13.7% of South Africans are living with the virus. An estimated 8.2 million people in 2021 (statssa, 2021).

✔ Adolescent girls and young women who are between 15 and 24 years are the most at risk group of people for HIV infection in South Africa (UNAIDS, 2017).

The people most at risk of getting this STI (nhs.uk, 2021):

✔ People whose current or previous partner had HIV.

✔ People with a current or previous partner who is from an area with high HIV rates.

✔ People who are from an area with high HIV rates.

✔ Using drugs to help or enhance sex.

✔ Men who have unprotected sex with men.

✔ Women who have unprotected sex with men who have sex with men.

✔ Injecting drugs and sharing equipment.

✔ Those who have unprotected sex with somebody who has injected drugs and shared equipment.

✔ Sharing sex toys with someone living with HIV.

✔ Having a history of sexually transmitted infections, like hepatitis B or C.

✔ Those who have had multiple sexual partners.

✔ People who have been sexually assaulted.

✔ Those who have received a blood transfusion, transplant or other risk-prone procedures in countries that do not have strong screening for HIV.

✔ Healthcare workers who could accidentally prick themselves with an infected needle – but this risk is extremely low.

✔ Babies born from a parent with untreated HIV.

How Can I Get HIV?

Short answer: HIV lives in the blood and in some body fluids. To get HIV, the fluids from someone with HIV has to get into your blood (nhs.uk, 2021).

Long answer: Only certain body fluids contain enough HIV to infect someone. These are: semen, vaginal fluids (including menstrual blood), breast milk, blood, and the lining inside the anus (nhs.uk, 2021). One can get HIV when these fluids enter your body (nhs.uk, 2021).

This can happen through injecting with dirty needles or compromised donated blood, sex (oral, vaginal, or anal), the thin lining of the eye membrane or through cuts and sores in the skin (nhs.uk, 2021).

How To Protect Yourself Against HIV

Using a combination of the following will help to protect a person from exposing themselves to HIV (WHO, 2022):

✔ Using male or female condoms.

Voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC)

✔ Regular testing for HIV and other STIs

✔ Taking an oral pill that prevents an HIV infection if you think you might be exposed called PrEP, or using the dapivirine vaginal ring or getting the injectable long-acting cabotegravir.

✔ Using clean needles.

✔ Speaking to your doctor if you are living with HIV and are pregnant.

What Are The Symptoms of HIV?

Within 2 to 4 weeks after infection with HIV, about 2 in 3 people will have a flu-like illness. This is the body’s natural response to HIV infection (HIV.gov, 2022).

Stage 1: Flu-like symptoms can include (HIV.gov, 2022):

✔ Fever

✔ Chills

Rash

✔ Night sweats

✔ Muscle aches

✔ Sore throat

✔ Fatigue

✔ Swollen lymph nodes

✔ Mouth ulcers

Stage 2: Clinical Latency / chronic HIV infection (HIV.gov, 2022):

In this stage, the virus still multiplies, but at very low levels. People in this stage may not feel sick or have any symptoms.

Without HIV treatment, people can stay in this stage for 10 or 15 years, but some move through this stage faster.

Stage 3: AIDS (HIV.gov, 2022): the late stage of HIV infection

If you have HIV and you are not on treatment, eventually the virus will weaken your body’s immune system to the point that you will progress to AIDS.

Symptoms of AIDS can include:

Rapid weight loss

Recurring fever or profuse night sweats

Extreme and unexplained tiredness

✔ Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck

Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week

Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals

Pneumonia

Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids

Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders

Living Undetectable

If you take HIV medicine exactly as prescribed, you can get and keep an undetectable viral load. This means that you can live and long and healthy life and will not transmit HIV to your HIV-negative partners through sex.

But if you don’t take your medication or take it incorrectly, your viral load will be detectable. This means that you can transmit HIV, even when you have no symptoms. It’s important to see a health care provider like Epicentre’s Walk-In Lab regularly to get your viral load checked.

Our HIV Monitoring Package

If you are infected with HIV, monitoring your viral load is a crucial way to suppress the virus and live a normal life.

Please note that our packages are just a guide, you can pick any of our tests, add extra tests or take out any test. Choose what suits your needs!

How To Test For HIV With Epicentre

Epicentre offers a range of STI tests, including HIV screening & monitoring testing, to get tested:

Walk in Or make a booking online for one of our branches and request an STI screening.

✔ If you’d like to get you’d like to get tested at home, check out our STI Test In a Box.

✔ Unsure? Simply contact our team. We’re so happy to guide you through this process.

Testing For HIV With Epicentre

1. Book an appointment online or just come through to one of our branches.

2. When you arrive, let our nurse you are there for an STI test. Choose which STIs you would like to get, get the whole package, or add on additional STIs to screen for.

4. Our nurse will take you through to our blood collection lounge.

5. Our nurses are trained to make the process of collecting a blood sample as painless and comfortable as possible. Simply sit back and relax.

4. Your sample will then be sent to our laboratory. You will receive a SMS and email with a link to your result.

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