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HIV- is a term that almost everybody must’ve heard of, but only a few know the exact meaning of. But what does HIV positive mean?
You must have heard the term at least once on television, radio, newspaper, or social media. It is a very talked-about subject, but people still have little understanding.
HIV is a shortened form of Human Immunodeficiency Virus, a virus responsible for AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus, as the name suggests, infects a person’s immune system. The human body’s immune system contains cells responsible for fighting bacteria and microorganisms that attack the body from time to time.
HIV weakens the immune system leading to a series of infections affecting the human body.
Causes of HIV Infection
An HIV infection occurs in various ways, including sexual and non-sexual contact with the infected person. A very common method of spread of this virus is through anal or oral sex or unprotected sex.
The non-sexual spread of this virus occurs by contact with the infected blood of an HIV-positive person. Drug users are at a greater risk of HIV infection while sharing drug injections with the infected person.
The virus can also be spread from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or while feeding her baby with breast milk. When this virus enters the body of a healthy person and starts multiplying in his blood, the person is called HIV-positive.
Symptoms of HIV Infection
Another question that must have crossed your mind is how do we know if we are infected with HIV? HIV is a tricky virus as it is very difficult to see if it has infected you or not. Infected persons often neglect the symptoms it produces as they are mostly symptoms of other common diseases.
Within a week of an HIV infection, a person develops flu-like symptoms. The individual will develop a fever and a sore throat. Some other symptoms include sore throat, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes. Fatigue may also occur in most cases.
These are the symptoms you are most likely to ignore because of their typical nature; that is where another problem arises. Many people don’t get themselves checked by a doctor or run a blood test to know the cause of these symptoms.
As time passes, the virus develops and reproduces inside the infected person, eventually destroying the White Blood Cells responsible for killing the bacteria and other harmful microorganisms entering the body.
When left untreated, the virus will slowly invade the body and completely cripple the immune system. The immune system will be unable to fight even small infections, which a healthy man easily does, making the person home to various diseases. This is how the person will develop AIDS.
If you decide to go to the doctor and run an HIV test, the virus can be detected at an early stage. HIV tests are done in three ways: Antibody, antigen/antibody, and nucleic acid.
Antibody tests work on the principle of looking for antibodies made against HIV in your body. If you are HIV positive, the body must have made antibodies to fight the virus. Antibody tests check for the same antibodies in your blood.
Antigen/antibody tests involve looking for both the HIV antibodies and the antigens in your blood. A certain kind of Antigen/antibody test is done with blood using a finger stick.
In a Nucleic Acid test, the health care provider will take your blood sample and send it to a lab for blood tests. This test will give a clear picture of the presence of the virus in the blood.
It also tells you how much virus is present in the body. However, the right type of test for you can be recommended to you only by your doctor or health care provider.
Can HIV be Treated?
There isn’t a cure for HIV, but you can reduce the HIV in your body if you catch the symptoms early and start taking medications for the same. The HIV treatment should begin immediately after the diagnosis.
More delay can lead to more harm to your immune system. An early HIV diagnosis allows you to start the treatment early to reduce the risk of the damage done by the virus and prevent yourself from transmitting the virus to someone else.
HIV treatment includes a few medicines in the Antiretroviral therapy ART provided by your health care provider.
Health care providers use two types of HIV treatments: pills and shots. Drugs are used for patients who have recently started HIV treatment.
Shots are used for patients with an undetectable viral load for at least three months. These shots are given once a month or once every other month.
Taking your pills or shots periodically and as prescribed can help suppress your viral load (lowering the number of HIV viruses in the blood), so much so that your viral load may be undetectable. If you have an undetectable viral load, you will not transmit HIV through sex. This means the treatment is working.
Also, remember that changing your lifestyle and maintaining your diet and nutrition are integral to your HIV treatment.
The virus leaves the body weak and prone to infections. Since the immune system is fighting a war with the virus inside the body, you need to make sure you do everything possible to lead a healthy life.
Exercise is a cardinal companion while living with HIV. Staying active involves regular physical exercises which improve your strength, reduce the risk of anxiety and depression and help you get good sleep.
Aerobic activities like walking and jogging have proven to be very helpful in increasing the strength of many HIV patients. Simple activities like fast walking for half an hour a day should be included in your daily routine.
Weightlifting is also recommended for HIV-positive individuals because of its increased strength. You don’t need any fancy equipment to weightlift. Any item in your house, like juice cans or books, can work as weights you can lift.
Start by lifting a comfortable weight, or else it can cause strain in your muscles. As you get confident lifting heavier objects, you will see a big difference in your body strength.
Doing pushups, crunches, or bodyweight squats also helps strengthen your body.
Eating healthy is very important as the medication you take may have side effects. Since you can’t stop taking your medicines, you must start eating healthy. You may consult a dietician who may tell you what diet you should follow. But, in general, these are the nutrient-rich foods you should intake:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Beans and lentils
- Lean meat
- Fatty fish
Include high-calorie protein drinks or shakes in your diet. It is a must that you drink at least 8-10 glasses of water every day.
If, in case, you have diarrhea (which is a common symptom in HIV-positive individuals), eat bland food and avoid fried or high-fat foods.
Avoid overly hot, cold, or spicy food if you have mouth sores.
In addition, food safety is a must since HIV increases your risk of getting a food-related illness. So, it would help if you were extra careful before consuming any food item. Consult your doctor or dietician for the same.
Practice Safer Sex
It would be unrealistic to ask someone not to have any sexual relationship with someone during the whole course of treatment for HIV. So the better option is to ensure you are free from any risk of transmitting the virus to your partner while having sex.
The first thing you must do before having any sexual relationship with anyone is informed your partner about your condition. They deserve to know something this important before moving forward. It is then up to your partner if they still want to have intercourse with you.
To ensure you don’t accidentally spread the virus to your partner while having intercourse, get Antiretroviral Therapy or ART, which helps lower the amount of HIV in your body.
Once you’ve made sure that the viral load in your body is undetectable or, in other words, lessened to the point that it is not detectable, you can practice safe sex.
Using condoms while having sex is a must if you are an HIV person, as you do not want your partner to catch the virus accidentally.
Smoking is considered harmful to everyone. For an HIV-positive person, it is two times more dangerous.
Smoking is dangerous for your internal organs and may worsen your condition. It is bad for your oral health and makes it difficult for your treatment to work.
You can ask your doctor for help if you cannot quit smoking or talk to experts who can help you leave your habit of smoking.
Avoid drinking alcohol and misusing drugs.
If you or any of your friends consume alcohol or drugs, you must be aware that these can prevent you from thinking clearly. For a person going through HIV treatment, drinking alcohol and taking drugs is risky as you need to maintain discipline in taking your medicines and improving your overall lifestyle.
A person who isn’t sober will not be able to follow the instructions provided by his health care provider and may end up messing up his treatment plan.
Consumption of drugs and alcohol also affects your immune system, which is the last thing you want to happen if you are an HIV person. It also leads to poor nutrition.
Seeking help from your doctor is a wise choice if you cannot give up this habit of yours.
Take care of your mental health.
Living with HIV is not easy. It is normal to feel stressed and sad about it. On top of that, the medications you take can also affect your mood.
It may urge you to stop taking your medicines and abandon the HIV treatment. But remember, you are doing this for yourself.
Think of it more positively. HIV is a disease just like many other diseases. Many people are living with some other severe illness just like you are.
It doesn’t mean you are not struggling, but some people are suffering just as much as you are. If they can face such difficulties, so can you.
If you ever feel stressed about it, talk to your doctor. Meditate daily as it helps to keep your mind at ease.
Talk to your close friends and family members about your worries and thoughts. Don’t keep your problems to yourself; share whatever you’re thinking. It helps a lot.
HIV is a topic only a few know about. But why is it so? There is a stigma around this term, which is why it is not openly discussed. People judge someone who talks about HIV or AIDS.
Also, the main problem is the negative attitude of people towards HIV-positive individuals, which leads to a bigger issue of discrimination towards people with the infection. Society judges people with HIV, often thinking that only a certain group can have this infection and that such people deserve it because of their choices.
Sometimes, health care providers can too disagree on helping people living with HIV. This results in people refusing to have casual contact with HIV-positive persons. Some refuse to even talk to such people. This desolates people with HIV from society.
The such treatment hurts the mental health of an individual living with HIV. Such hatred from people can take a toll on someone’s mental peace. It may sometimes lead to depression and a feeling of loneliness among people living with HIV.
This constant neglection from people can lead to HIV-positive individuals having a negative self-image. The person may feel embarrassed and ashamed for this very reason. That is also one of the reasons why people give HIV-positive individuals treatment is disrespectful and not accepted.
People need to know that HIV is not spread from physical touch or by simply being around the infected person. It does not spread from talking or shaking hands with the HIV-positive person. HIV cannot be transmitted via contact.
HIV is not transmitted by water, air, or insects. It’s the spread of body fluids that can help send the virus. So a virus cannot be transferred without hugging or touching someone with an infectious disease.
The negative effects of discriminating against people living with HIV are a big reason to educate such people about this virus. HIV infection is a severe condition that can occur to anyone regardless of age, gender, color, or social or financial status.
People need to understand that HIV infection doesn’t occur to someone because they made a wrong choice. No one knows how long they are going to live.
Similarly, an individual doesn’t know if HIV will infect them. It is nature that decides this. The only thing we can do to prevent ourselves from catching HIV infection is to take measures against it.
If the young generation is educated more about this virus, we may have a chance to reduce the number of HIV patients worldwide while removing the stigma around HIV. Camps can be held in various locations to discuss HIV and let people know the exact cause of HIV infection and the mode of its spread.
Schools can introduce a curriculum where they can teach students more about HIV and AIDS. The more openly we talk about HIV, the more people will understand that it is a disease that can affect anybody and that it’s normal to talk about it and not be ashamed of it.
The day we realize that our fight is not just against HIV and its damaging effects on our body but also the stigma around HIV, we will have won half of this war against HIV and AIDS.