What is usually the first sign of HIV?
- Body ache
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes: Lymph nodes are a part of the body’s immune system that helps get rid of bacteria and viruses. An HIV infection, like many other infections, can cause the inflammation of lymph nodes, which can be felt as round or nodular swellings in the armpit, groin, and neck. The swelling is often associated with aches and pains in these areas.
How long does it take to see the signs of HIV?
The signs and symptoms of HIV may first appear within two to four weeks of infection. The stage in which the symptoms appear is called the stage of acute HIV infection. The symptoms appear due to the resistance or fight of the immune system against HIV. In the initial stage, the virus multiplies rapidly and spreads throughout the body. It targets and destroys the CD4 cells (the infection-fighting cells of the body). As a result, the level of HIV in the blood and the chances of transmission at this stage are very high. It is crucial to recognize the early signs and seek medical help, since early diagnosis and treatment of HIV gets the best results.
What are the tests for detecting HIV?
Various tests may be used for HIV detection:
- HIV antibody test: This test detects the antibodies produced (within two to 12 weeks of infection) in the body in response to HIV.
- Antigen test: This test can be done at an earlier stage than an HIV antibody test. It measures a protein called p24 antigen, present in the virus and produced in high amounts after the infection.
- Nucleic acid test (NAT): It is also called an RNA test. It is a very specific test that looks for the virus itself and can detect HIV as early as about 10 days of infections.
- In-home test kits: Although less accurate than the laboratory-based tests, home-based kits have the advantage of testing in the privacy and comfort of the home. Only FDA approved home-based kits should be used.
- Viral culture: This involves using the patient’s sample and growing the virus in the lab. It takes longer to get the results and is not the most preferred test for HIV.
How do you get HIV?
HIV infection can occur in the following ways:
- Unprotected sexual intercourse, especially receptive anal intercourse
- Multiple sexual partners
- Sexually transmitted diseases: Chlamydia and gonorrhea infections increase the HIV transmission risk by three times; syphilis raises the transmission risk by seven times and genital herpes raises the infection risk by 25 times during an outbreak
- Sharing IV (intravenous) needles or injections
- Receiving HIV infected blood products (this does not occur in the US since the screening of blood donors for HIV began in 1985)
- Needle-stick injuries
- Maternal HIV infection (for newborns, infants and children): The risk of transmission can be reduced at birth by practices like cesarean delivery and prenatal (before childbirth) antiretroviral therapy in the mother, and antiretroviral therapy in the newborn immediately after birth
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