Around the world, roughly 36.7 million people are living with HIV, but what exactly is this epidemic? HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) if not treated. Like any other virus, it must infect living cells to reproduce, but unlike other viruses like the common cold or flu that leave the body after a few days, HIV never goes away, and a person who is HIV positive will always be HIV positive.
What does the HIV virus do?
So, what does the virus do? HIV attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (T cells) that defend the body by fighting off infections. Untreated, HIV reduces the number of T cells in the body, leaving a person vulnerable to an onslaught of other infections or infection-related cancers. If T cells drop below 200, that is when a person develops AIDS.
What are symptoms of HIV?
Some early symptoms of HIV include fever, chills, night sweats, muscle aches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, or mouth ulcers – although having these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have HIV. While there is no cure for HIV, the good news is that with the right medical care, it can be treated like a chronic, manageable illness, especially if it is caught early on.
Should I get an HIV test?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 16-24 years old get tested for HIV at least once, while those who are high risk for the infection should be tested each year. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from getting tested more often, such as every three to six months. If you’re wondering if you are considered high risk for infection, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Have I had vaginal or anal sex with someone who is HIV positive or whose HIV status I don’t know?
- Have I had more than one sex partner?
- Have I injected drugs using shared needles, syringes, or any other drug equipment?
- Have I exchanged sex for drugs or money?
- Have I been diagnosed with another sexually transmitted disease, such as syphilis?
- Do I have hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)?
The only way to know if you have HIV for sure is to get tested. There are many different kinds of tests – some that can detect HIV itself, and some that detect the cells and particles (antibodies) that the body uses to fight HIV.
Where can I get an HIV test?
The most convenient way to get tested for HIV - or any STD test - is by going to your local urgent care clinic, where a doctor will take a blood sample or oral fluid sample from you. Using Solv, you can see a list of all of the urgent care centers that are closest to you and make an appointment to be seen the same day, so you can get the answers you need about your health sooner rather later.