Understanding what HIV/AIDS is can help you detect the disease in its early stages and begin treatment. Learn more about the virus and where you can get tested.
June 18, 2021
Curious about what HIV/AIDS is? The virus has been around since the 1980s; however, many people still have questions about the disease and its symptoms. We break down everything you need to know about HIV/AIDS along with how to get tested at your nearby Valleywise Community Health Center.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. HIV transmission occurs when a person makes contact with certain bodily fluids from another individual with HIV. This most commonly happens during unprotected sex or through sharing used needles. HIV can also be spread from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
While there are several myths about HIV and its transmission, it’s important to note that the virus cannot spread in the air, water or through casual contact — like shaking hands, hugging and high-fiving.
AIDS is the advanced stage of the HIV infection. It occurs when HIV weakens the immune system so much that it can’t effectively respond to other conditions, diseases and infections. This makes a person living with AIDS vulnerable to several illnesses, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, oral thrush and more.
Keep in mind that having HIV doesn’t necessarily mean that you will develop AIDS. People with HIV usually have a near-normal lifespan with early intervention and antiretroviral therapy. Untreated, HIV can progress to full-blown AIDS within a decade, and life expectancy after diagnosis is about three years.
The first few weeks after a person contracts HIV is called the acute infection stage. The virus reproduces rapidly during this time, and your immune system responds by producing HIV antibodies. Some people have no symptoms at first; however, many experience symptoms within the first month or so after contracting the disease. Early signs of HIV can include:
Since the symptoms of HIV are similar to the flu, many people don’t consider seeing a healthcare provider. But whether a person has symptoms or not, HIV levels in the bloodstream are very high during this period, increasing the chance of transmission to others.
People living with HIV may develop AIDS if their HIV is not diagnosed within eight to 10 years or they don’t consistently take their medication. They may also develop AIDS if they have a type of HIV that’s resistant to treatment. Symptom of AIDS can include:
If an individual with HIV doesn’t get treatment, they typically go through three stages of the disease:
If you suspect you may have contracted HIV, the first step is to get tested. If your test results come back HIV positive, it’s important to seek HIV treatment right away.
Valleywise Health offers a new program across all our clinics called “opt-out testing.” First-time visitors and patients can request a rapid, same-day test to determine if they have the virus. If they are negative, they can start taking HIV prevention drugs (known as PrEP) the same day. If they are positive, they can begin HIV treatment the same day and will be referred to our Valleywise Community Health Center — McDowell for further assistance.