We talked to experts from the Valleywise Health Community Health Center – McDowell about common myths and misconceptions surrounding HIV/AIDS and how important it is to seek treatment right away.
September 24, 2020
An HIV diagnosis can be scary, but the truth is that preventative techniques and modern-day medicine can help reduce your risk of HIV transmission and allow you to live a long and healthy life with little to no symptoms.
Originally founded in 1989, Valleywise Health Community Health Center – McDowell is the largest provider of primary HIV care in Arizona. With 50 staff members available to provide comprehensive health services, you can feel confident that you’ll receive the best care possible.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that lives in the blood stream, specifically in certain white blood cells. HIV is called the “immunodeficiency virus” because it attacks the immune system by destroying these white blood cells.
AIDS is the advanced stage of an HIV infection. When someone says they have AIDS, it means their immune system has been weakened by HIV to a certain point. As the virus attacks these white blood cells, (also known as T-cells or CD4 cells) and causes the number of them in the body to drop, people become at increased risk for getting infections or cancers.
Nowadays, medicine can prevent almost anyone infected with HIV from developing AIDS. With consistent treatment, patients can live long, healthy lives. If you or a loved one are diagnosed with HIV, you can expect to begin taking what are known as antiretrovirals (ARVs). ARVs are usually prescribed as a combination of different HIV medications that must be taken on a daily basis to prevent the level of HIV infected cells from growing. When used in combination with other drugs, this becomes known as antiretroviral therapy, or ART.
HIV is most commonly transmitted through either sexual behaviors or sharing of syringes. Only certain bodily fluids – blood, semen, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk – can transmit the virus. For transmission to occur the virus must come in contact with a mucous membrane – either the mouth, penis, vagina or rectum.
HIV is a fragile virus. It can’t survive outside of the human body for long and does not typically transfer on surfaces. There is also a mistaken conception that HIV is primarily spread through homosexual relations. No matter what gender or sexual orientation, HIV is transmittable through body fluids.
The best way to lower risk of HIV transmission is to practice safe sex, use preventative medicines (Or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, known as PrEP) and to never share needles or syringes.
People can live with HIV infection for years or decades with zero symptoms. Some people will get flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, rash, fatigue etc…) when they’re infected but not everyone experiences that. Most people have no symptoms for a long time although some may progress to AIDS quickly.
If you are concerned you may have contracted HIV, the best thing to do is get tested. If you are diagnosed HIV positive, it’s important to seek treatment right away.
Right now, Valleywise Health has a new program across all of our emergency rooms and clinics called “opt-out testing”. Patients and first-time visitors can request a rapid, same-day test to find out if they HIV infected. If they are negative they can start HIV prevention, PrEP, on the same day. If they are positive, they can start HIV treatment the same day and be immediately referred to the HIV-specialty McDowell clinic.
If you are diagnosed without insurance, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program can cover the costs of treatment, whether you are here legally or illegally. You will be connected with the Ryan White Central Eligibility office to help you apply for Ryan White services, as well as to help you enroll in any other insurance that you might be eligible for. They will help to make sure that you’re always able to receive the treatment and care for your HIV.
If you have more questions about HIV transmission and symptoms, visit our HIV/AIDS Services page or get in contact with our Valleywise Community Health Center – McDowell. We want to help all people around the Valley live long and happy lives, no matter what their HIV status is.