Why is it so important to get tested for HIV?
We know, stop already. We’ve been going on and on and on about HIV, what it is, where it came from, how have we learned to treat it… but have we really stressed the importance of getting tested?
The short answer… HIV has late on-set symptoms, meaning 10 years down the road from the point of infection, you could still be completely unaware of your HIV positive status. By the time the virus does reveal itself, it is likely that it will be too late for treatment and the individual will be diagnosed as having late stage HIV, AIDS.
On top of this, not getting tested is extremely irresponsible to those that you come into future intimate contact with.
Why? Because despite its sometimes symptom-less guise, the virus is highly infectious during the early stages. If you have recently been infected and go on to engage in intimate contact with another, there is an extremely high risk that you will pass the infection on.
You may recall from our piece on the origin of HIV, that the virus can lay in your system for as long as 10 years without any symptoms! That’s right, ten years.
The sad part is that this far down the line, the body would have reached the end stage of the virus – otherwise referred to as AIDs or Acquired Immunodeficiency Disease.
Okay so there may have been some symptoms about 3-6 weeks in, but these may have gone unnoticed.
Following exposure to the HIV-1 virus…
– hold on HIV-1? Yes, we haven’t covered this part yet but there is more than one type of the HIV virus… there are even sub-types within those types. It’s never going to be straightforward but stay with us, we will get there in future pieces – Now, where were we?
Following exposure to the virus, in some cases but not all, the individual might experience what can only be referred to as ‘flu-like’ symptoms. These flu-like symptoms can include: swollen glands, skin rash, muscle and joint aches, fever and a sore throat.
The virus cells invade the body and aim straight for the fit and healthy CD4 cells, sometimes known as t cells. The HIV cell will attached itself to and eventually fuse with the CD4 cell, until it manages to replicate itself.
Once it has achieved replication the new, young HIV cells pack up there stuff and leave the current CD4 cell. After leaving the CD4 cell, the young virus cell will head straight for the next uninfected CD4 cell, with the intent of repeating the process of its shall we say “parent” cell.
Are you with us? There’s been a lot of cell talk.
These previously mentioned flu-like symptoms come as a result of the immune system finally recognising that there is an internal threat and reacting to fight the threat off.
This reaction can take a number of weeks and there is a very clever and very scary reason for this.
The cells that the HIV-1 virus uses to replicate itself, the CD4 cells, play an incredibly important role in our immune systems.
In regular circumstances, the CD4 cells alert the body to threat and give the go ahead for the immune system to start reacting to the foreign invader.
The trick that the HIV-1 virus has, up its incredibly deceitful sleeve, is that it uses these CD4 cells as its breeding ground. By using the CD4 cells to replicate, the virus manages to fool the alarm systems for a number of weeks, the body does not recognise threat, only replication of what it believes to be healthy and useful cells.
Once the viral load reaches a certain count – so, when the HIV virus has replicated itself a significant amount of times – it no longer has any place to hide. This is when the body will finally recognise the invasion and the immune system kick-starts, causing the carrier to experience those famous, nasty flu-like symptoms.
Unfortunately by this point the body is already overloaded with the HIV virus, as it has already had weeks to replicate itself.
Don’t be too alarmed. All of that said, that’s the technical stuff, the nature of the virus, the facts. The nature of any virus is to replicate, HIV just happens to be very good at it. What’s most important is that you know this stuff.
Knowing this information is your greatest protection against becoming HIV positive. Okay, so using condoms and not sharing needles are pretty high up there too but you get our point.
In the event that you do find yourself at risk of infection, contact your local GP immediately and tell them about your situation.
We are at a revolutionary point with medical research, check out our piece on the PrEP drug and for the latest medical advancements in treating and preventing HIV infection.
We have a tonne of pieces on HIV including: The origin of HIV, the ground-breaking PrEP drug and how to prepare for travel if you have been diagnosed with HIV or any condition that causes immunodeficiency.
Be sure to check out our blog pieces and if you are travelling soon, never, ever, ever go away without your travel insurance policy, it will be your right hand man and we will be your left.
Are you travelling with HIV? Find out more on our policies here.