HIV, short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus which damages the immune system and which can lead to AIDS. HIV transmission
can occur during sex or through blood transfusions. HIV has a very long incubation period, which means that the first symptoms may occur a long time after infection. Without treatment, the average latency period for HIV is ten years. As HIV can be symptomless before it progresses to cause more serious infections or even AIDS, people often do not realise that they are HIV positive.
If you have had unprotected sex with someone whose HIV status you are unaware of, you should get tested. Superdrug Online Doctor service offers a discreet and fast service, allowing you to get tested using a convenient home HIV test kit. We work with a trusted UK based laboratory for accurate results.
HIV is primarily transmitted during sexual intercourse. Blood, semen, vaginal fluid and pre-ejaculate contain the virus, which can easily be passed between partners. The risk of infection is particularly high during anal sex.
In 2012, it was estimated that 22,600 HIV positive individuals in the UK were unaware of their infection (approximately 21% of all cases). The infection can go unnoticed for a long period of time, which is why HIV testing is highly recommended if you have had unprotected sex.
The HIV virus can also be transmitted via blood transfusion (although in the UK, all donated blood is checked for HIV so there is almost no risk of infection). Breast milk of infected mothers may contain the virus and which can be transmitted to the baby during breastfeeding.
In many cases, HIV does not cause major symptoms for many years. It may then start to cause some illnesses or symptoms, or may not show symptoms before it progresses to AIDS. Some patients encounter flu-like symptoms within 2 - 6 weeks of infection, during a stage called “seroconversion”. These symptoms can be very severe and they can be mistaken for a particularly bad case of the flu. They can include fever, swollen glands, a sore throat, muscle and joint aches as well as fatigue and headache. These symptoms occur as the body’s immune system tries to fight the virus.
In some cases, HIV also causes an itchy skin rash, which consists of small red bumps. It most commonly occurs on the face, chest, feet and hands.
The only way to know for sure whether you have contracted HIV is to get tested. There are different HIV test options. Usually, a blood sample is taken and checked for signs of an infection. The sample can be very small and it can be taken with a home test kit. It can take up to six weeks after infection before the virus shows in test results. If you have recently had unprotected sex or have been exposed to the virus you should wait six weeks before getting tested (or simply repeat the test after six weeks to make sure you get an accurate result).
An alternative testing option is a saliva test. However, it can take up to three months after infection for the virus to be detectable in a saliva test.
HIV infection requires ongoing treatment with “antiretroviral” drugs . Usually, patients take a combination of HIV medicines, which prevent the virus from spreading and damaging the immune system. Modern HIV therapy lowers the occurrence of the HIV virus in your blood below a measurable level (a level so low it can’t be detected in a blood test). The medications have to be taken every day in order to keep the infection under control. The sooner after infection the therapy starts, the better - you should not delay getting tested if you believe you may have caught HIV.
There is no cure for HIV but antiretroviral treatment effectively prevents or delays the development of AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).
Since more effective HIV medications were made available in 1996, the mortality rate of HIV patients has decreased significantly. Many patients with HIV are expected to have a normal life expectancy, providing they take the correct treatment. The individual prognosis for a patient depends on how soon after infection the antiretroviral treatment begins.
If HIV goes unnoticed until the illness has progressed and caused AIDS, it is much more difficult to treat.