Sexually transmitted diseases (STD)

HIV

portrait of Fernando Martínez Sáez
Written by

Fernando Martínez Sáez
Medically reviewed by our Medical staff

Last update: 21-03-2022

How else can it be called?

  • Human immunodeficiency virus

  • AIDS

  • CIE-10: B20

What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that gradually weakens the body's immune system.

As the HIV virus damages the immune system it weakens people's defense against many infections and some types of cancer. HIV attacks and destroys the CD4 lymphocytes that are in charge of fighting off external infections.

HIV and AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is not the same. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV. A person with AIDS develops a severe immunodeficiency and a lack of defense against opportunistic infections.

Before developing AIDS, there may be an asymptomatic stage for many years where there may be no symptoms.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted via the exchange of body fluids from an infected person, such as the blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk of a person with HIV. It can also be transmitted from a mother to her child during pregnancy and delivery.

People with HIV can transmit the infection. For this reason, they should not donate blood, plasma, organs or semen. In addition, they must avoid fluid contact during sexual intercourse.

Which are the main risk factors?

The main risk factors to get infected by HIV include:

  • Having unprotected anal or vaginal sex with an infected person.
  • People who inject drugs
  • Being born to an HIV positive mother
  • Blood and plasma transfusions (very low nowadays thanks to the health control).

How can it be prevented?

The risk of infection may be reduced with the following approach:

  • Avoid unprotected sex with infected people, multiple partners or people who have had multiple partners or who are drug addicts.
  • Use condom in the sexual intercourse.
  • Do not inject drugs and never share needles or syringes.

Which are the symptoms of HIV infection?

Within 2 to 4 weeks after the initial infection with HIV, some people may have flu-like symptoms.

They are often vague or unspecific and may include fever, sore throat, muscle aches, rash or fatigue.

The symptoms may last for a few days to several weeks.

How can it be diagnosed?

The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is through a diagnostic test. The most widely used tests detect HIV antibodies.

People usually develop antibodies to HIV from 3 to 12 weeks after the infection.

A person seropositive for HIV is the one that have tested positive in an HIV test and must follow an appropriate treatment.

What is the recommended treatment?

People with a diagnosis of infection for HIV should follow antiretroviral therapy (ART) to inhibit HIV replication. ART is recommended for everyone who has HIV. The therapy may be composed of a combination of three or more antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.

There is no cure for HIV infection but ART therapy may reduce HIV to such small quantities that may be undetectable in the blood.

When should I visit the doctor?

You should talk to your health care provider if you suspect a possible infection or you are an infected patient who develops HIV related symptoms.

Medically reviewed by our Medical staff on 21-03-2022

Bibliography

  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases: A Practical Guide for Primary Care. (2nd Ed), Pag. 97, Gunter Rieg. ISBN: 978-1-62703-498-2.
  • HIV/AIDS. World Health Organization. Available on: https://www.who.int
  • About HIV: CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available on: https://www.cdc.gov
  • HIV and AIDS: The basics. National Institute of Health. Available on: https://hivinfo.nih.gov

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