HIV and AIDS (cont.)

If you fall into any of the categories above, you should consider being tested for HIV.

Health care workers are at risk on the job and should take special precautions. Some health care workers have become infected after being stuck with needles containing HIV-infected blood or less frequently, after infected blood comes into contact with an open cut or through splashes into the worker's eyes or inside their nose.

HIV Tests

The only way to know if you have HIV is to take an HIV test. Most tests looks for signs of HIV in your blood. A small sample of blood is taken from your arm. The blood is sent to a lab and tested for HIV. There are other tests available that check for HIV in the urine and oral fluid. The urine test is not very sensitive. There are currently two FDA-approved oral fluid tests. They are OraSure and OraQuick Advance.

Because of the inaccurate results, the FDA has not approved any of the home-use HIV tests which allow people to interpret their tests in a few minutes at home. There is however a Home Access test approved which can be found at most drugstores. In this test blood from a finger prick is placed on a card and sent to a licensed lab. Consumers are given an identification number to use when phoning for results and have the opportunity to speak with a counselor if desired.

Clinics that do HIV tests keep your test results secret. Some clinics even perform HIV tests without ever taking your name (anonymous testing). You must go back to the clinic to get your results. A positive test means that you have HIV. A negative test means that no signs of HIV were found in your blood.

Before taking an HIV test:

  • Ask the clinic what privacy rules it follows
  • Think about how knowing you have HIV would change your life
  • Ask your doctor or nurse any questions you have about HIV, AIDS or the HIV test

Who Should Be Tested for HIV?

Recently, the CDC changed testing recommendations. All adults should be screened at least once. People who are considered high risk (needle drug users, multiple sex partners, for example) should be tested more often. All pregnant women should be tested. Anyone who has sustained a needle stick or significant blood exposure from a person known to have HIV or from an unknown source should be tested, too.

Does HIV Have Symptoms?

Some people get flu-like symptoms within a month after they have been infected. These symptoms often go away within a week to a month. A person can have HIV for many years before feeling ill.

As the disease progresses, both women and men may experience yeast infections on the tongue (thrush), and women may develop severe vaginal yeast infections or pelvic inflammatory disease. Shingles is often seen early on, often before someone is diagnosed with HIV.

What Are the Symptoms of AIDS?

Signs that HIV is turning into AIDS include:

What Infections Do People With AIDS Get?

People with AIDS are extremely vulnerable to infection, called AIDS-defining illnesses, and often exhibit the following conditions:

  • Kaposi's sarcoma, a skin tumor that looks like dark or purple blotches on the skin or in the mouth
  • Mental changes and headaches caused by to fungal infections or tumors in the brain and spinal cord
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing because of infections of the lungs
  • Dementia
  • Severe malnutrition
  • Chronic diarrhea

How Is AIDS Diagnosed?

If a person with HIV infection has a CD4 count that drops below 200 -- or if certain infections appear (AIDS-defining illnesses) -- that person is considered to have AIDS.

How Is HIV Treated?

We've come a long way from the days when diagnosis with HIV equaled a death sentence. Today, there are a variety of treatments that, when used in combination can significantly slow down and in some cases stop altogether, the progression of HIV infection.


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