Nowadays, talking about HIV and AIDS still raises doubts. To avoid confusion, HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus with several routes of contagion :
– Sexual transmission : unprotected sexual intercourse, whether vaginal, anal or oral, is the main route of infection, which is due to contact between mucous membranes or small lesions and genital fluids. Therefore, it is considered a sexually transmitted infection.
– Blood transmission : due to contact of infected blood with wounds by sharing utensils such as toothbrushes, knives or syringes.
– Vertical transmission : this is the transmission of HIV through childbirth or the breastfeeding period.
The virus is not transmitted in any other way. Touching, hugging or sharing spaces with an infected person is not contagious. HIV is also not transmitted by animals.
Therefore, HIV is the virus that affects the human immune system while AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is the infection that, over time, this virus develops in some people. It is possible to have the virus without knowing it. We answer below the question “ can I have HIV without symptoms ” and, in that case, how to know if you are infected or not.
Can you have HIV without symptoms?
Yes, it is possible to get HIV and not have any symptoms. Without treatment, the effect of this virus on the body is progressive, making it possible to differentiate several stages in its evolution depending on how seriously it affects the immune system. So when do the symptoms of HIV appear? Here we explain it:
– Acute infection : it is the first phase after contracting HIV and occurs between 2-4 weeks after infection. At this time, some people have symptoms such as fever, headache, and skin rash. These are symptoms easily confused with the flu. They are because the virus is spreading rapidly throughout the body, destroying the cells of the immune system that fight against it. In this phase, the viral load is very high, which means that that person can easily spread the virus to another. Thinking it’s just the flu, patients don’t take any HIV screening tests. Thus, the infection goes unnoticed and the advantages of early treatment are not reaped.
– Chronic infection : this stage shows that you can have HIV without symptoms. Thus, in this latent stage there is infection, but no symptoms. The virus continues to multiply in the body, but in very low concentrations. Therefore, there are no clinical signs that suggest that you are sick. This phase can last for more than ten years in which the person does not have symptoms, but is capable of transmitting the infection. If the virus is not detected and treated, it will progress to the most serious stage.
The final stage of HIV infection is AIDS . Read here more information about the difference between the two terms: What is the difference between HIV and AIDS. At this time, the immune system is already very weakened, which means that it cannot fight any other infection or cancer that occurs. For this reason, the carrier person begins to suffer different diseases that are called opportunistic. In addition, he has a very high viral load, so he can easily transmit the virus.
How do I know if I have HIV?
It is possible to live with HIV for years without knowing it. The only way to detect it is to perform specific medical tests. The GP is the one who can request a blood or saliva test to look for the virus. In this way, parts of the virus or antibodies that the body generates to combat it are detected. According to UNAIDS*, 37.9 million people in the world live with HIV, which is why it is considered one of the most common STIs.
Therefore, it is important to go to the doctor and request these tests, but when to get tested for HIV? At present, there are tests that manage to detect the virus a couple of weeks after infection. Others require waiting between a month and a half and three months to be reliable. Check with your doctor to find out which and when to get tested. This is recommended for pregnant women, people who have had unprotected sex with someone infected or with multiple partners whose health status is unknown, if they have suffered from a sexually transmitted infection or, in general, if they have had any risk practice.
Can I prevent HIV?
Condom use can help reduce the risk of contracting an STI by 80-90%, as long as you use it correctly. Wear it in all your sexual encounters. On the other hand, never share utensils such as syringes, blades or toothbrushes. Go to professionals with all the health guarantees if you want to get a tattoo, put on an earring or receive an acupuncture session.