What exactly is HIV, or AIDS, is it the same thing?
Just to make the distinction and fully understand, HIV is Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Yes, only a virus. Nevertheless, it is a bit different than the common cold. It is usually transmitted through sexual contact, or blood transfusion. It also has a very specific target in our body, our immune system. Every day, our immune system is working to make sure that we feel as few of the dangers of this world as possible, even if that means raising the temperature of our body in order to create a hostile environment for other viruses and bacteria. A weak immune system can make us extremely vulnerable to otherwise harmless diseases, like the common cold for example. If our immune system becomes weaker, and eventually gets past a certain threshold (less than 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood) it is defined as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. If we manage to contain the virus, it won’t necessarily lead to AIDS.
Who should be screened for HIV
The short answer to this question is ‘everybody’. Official recommendations by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) maintain that everybody from the age 13-64 should be screened, and this recommendation was backed up by the American College of Physicians in 2009. That recommendation remains true today as well. Other recommendations suggest that all sexually active individuals should be screened, with an emphasis on pregnant women who have not previously been screened. The screening is a one time process, however certain individuals should be screened again if they have potential risk factors. Some of these an include multiple partners, unprotected sexual relations, use drugs intravenously, or have another sexually transmitted infection.
What’s the difference if I know that I’m infected now vs. later?
This is a question asked by people who say, ‘I’ll take my chances’. Well, there are certain statistics that would urge you to reconsider. As mentioned above, AIDS develops after you immune system passes a certain threshold, and gets to a point where it’s life threatening. According to the CDC, in 2008 approximately one third of patients diagnosed with HIV developed AIDS within one year. People infected with the virus may not know that they are infected until it’s too late. This means that they can spread the infection to others without knowing, and this can be very dangerous.
Does it work?
The current treatment is a combined antiretroviral therapy (ART). There is strong evidence to suggest that treating HIV at the asymptomatic stage has significant reduction in the amount of patients that develop AIDS, as well as lower mortality rate. The initiation of early treatment also drastically reduces the spreading of the disease to uninfected individuals, specifically in heterosexual partners. Early treatment also drastically reduces the risk of mothers passing on the disease through childbirth. To sum things up, infected individuals need to start treatment as early as possible.
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Knowledge is power. It’s very important for each of us to understand what our options are, and what evidence supports each option. Preventing diseases before they start is often the most efficient way to be healthy, and this starts by screening for the diseases that are appropriate for us depending on age, gender, and other factors. Download our app to go through a short list of questions, and receive a personalized list of the appropriate screening recommendations for you. More information about each of these tests is provided through the app, so that you can stay informed and educated.
Here are a few studies and references which prove the efficacy of screening and early treatment for HIV. Feel free to contact us for more information about the matter, we would be happy to provide it for you.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV Surveillance Report: Diagnoses of HIV Infection and AIDS in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2009. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2011.
Paltiel AD, Walensky RP, Schackman BR, Seage GR 3rd, Mercincavage LM, Weinstein MC, et al. Expanded HIV screening in the United States: effect on clinical outcomes, HIV transmission, and costs. Ann Intern Med. 2006;145:797-806.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for HIV: recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2005;143:32-7.
Reust CE. Common adverse effects of antiretroviral therapy for HIV disease. Am Fam Physician. 2011;83:1443-51.