Human Immunodeficiency Virus

Article published on 17th May 2008

According to figures released in 2005, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) affects nearly 64 thousand adults in the UK. One of the more alarming aspects of this figure is that it is thought that up to a third of those infected have not been diagnosed, meaning they don't realise they carry the virus. Tragically, as there is no cure yet for the virus, a person with HIV has it for life. Without diagnosis and treatment it is likely that infected persons will experience a severe down-turn in health and probable death.

HIV attacks the immune system leaving sufferers without the defences needed to fight off other diseases and infections. This makes sufferes more prone to contracting various rare and critical illnesses. Once the condition advances to the point that the immune system is severely damaged, the person infected with the virus is said to have AIDS.

Straight after infection there are no immediate symptoms or tell-tale signs to give the virus away. Some people develop flu-like symptoms after a few weeks, but these are not generally as being caused by HIV. The only sure-fire way to know whether you are infected is to have a blood test that specifically screens for for the virus.

If you believe there is a chance that you are infected with the virus - perhaps through unprotected sexual intercourse with someone infected with HIV, or perhaps through some other means where an exchange of blood with an infected person (however small) is likely to have occurred - then you should seek out a test as soon as possible.

That said, it can take up to 3 months for the identifiable antibodies created by HIV to appear in the bloodstream, so a test straight after infection might still come up as negative. So if you have good reason to believe that you are infected, be sure to go for a follow up test 3 months after your first test, even if the first test gave you an all-clear. Better to be safe than sorry.

Although there is no cure as yet for HIV there are antiretroviral drugs that can help prevent sufferers from developing debilitating symptoms or catching other diseases. If these drugs are taken religiously an infected person may never get critically ill. That said, the drugs must be taken for the rest of the infected person's life and any break in the treatments risks the contraction of illnesses from which recovery might prove very difficult indeed.

Medical science has taken steps towards finding a vaccination for HIV, but a cure is still many years away. It is imperative that safe sex is practiced by all and needles should never be shared for any reason.



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