What is HIV?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. A virus is very small and it can sometimes make you sick. HIV is a type of virus that weakens your immune system (the cells in your body that fight infection). That is why HIV is called the human immuno- (immune system) deficiency (to decrease or weaken) virus.
How can one get HIV?
You can get HIV from being exposed to blood and other bodily fluids of people infected with HIV. That is why sharing needles, sex without a condom or touching blood with the HI-virus can give you HIV.
Most people with HIV do not know they have it in the beginning and don’t feel sick. Some people feel like they have a rash, fever and/or joint pain. It can take a long time to feel symptoms, but you can give other people the virus even if you feel healthy. This is why it is important to test for HIV regularly.
What can happen without treatment?
If you have HIV and are not taking medicine, your immune system (your body’s defence against disease) gets weak and you can start getting other diseases or infections. A lot of people with HIV that are not taking medicine get diseases like TB and other infections, which can be dangerous. Essentially, your body cannot easily fight off infections that it normally could.
Prevention and Management
To test for HIV, the clinic takes one drop of your blood and puts it on a test stick. This stick can then see if your body is making antibodies to fight HIV. Antibodies will only be made if there is HIV in your body. Antibodies are small chemicals that your immune system makes to fight against infections. This test can only see if you have HIV 3 months after you have been infected, because it has to wait for your body to make antibodies. This means that the test can’t tell you if you have gotten HIV within the last three months. That is why it is important to go often to have a test.
If the test is positive, the nurse or doctor will do the test again to make sure it is correct. If it is correct, you probably have HIV and you must start taking medicine.
Pregnancy and HIV
Healthy pregnant women with HIV have a low chance of giving their baby the virus when the baby is in the womb. But, if the mother is not taking her medicine while she is pregnant, the baby might get the virus during birth. If the mother takes the medicine as prescribed, then the baby will be more protected from the virus. The mother can also breastfeed if she is taking medicine.
The medicines for HIV are called ARVs or ART, which stands for antiretroviral treatment. The name means that the medicine works against the virus. ART is very effective at fighting the HI-virus by suppressing its activity in our bodies. ART is free and widely available in the public sector. These medicines do not cure you; it only makes sure that the virus does not reproduce. People live long and happy lives if they take ARVs as prescribed.