HIV testing, symptoms, and treatment

Since its discovery in the early 1980s, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) -- along with its precursor, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) -- has posed major difficulties for the medical profession. To this day, there is no cure for either disease, but our understanding and treatments of them have come a long way.

While no longer the immediate death sentences they once were, at least not in the developed world, HIV and AIDS are still serious medical conditions that require early intervention and, better yet, prevention.

Prevention Techniques and Other AIDS Information

Although HIV and AIDS patients can live relatively long, healthy lives with the disease, the eventual outcome is still death, and the treatments can be cumbersome and expensive. Thus, as with many other diseases, prevention is still the best course of action.

HIV/AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), spread from person to person through semen, vaginal fluid, and pre-ejaculate. It can also be transmitted via blood, and mothers may spread it to babies through their breast milk.

To prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS, then, one should always practice safe sex (unless in a monogamous relationship in which both parties have tested clean). Also use caution when treating wounds of someone whose status you don't know. Infected mothers should not breastfeed their babies and should discuss with their doctors other methods for preventing transmission during gestation or birth.

HIV and AIDS Testing

A person may be infected with HIV and not show any symptoms for months or even years. However, during this time the disease is still transmittable, and proper treatment at this stage can help keep symptoms from appearing. Thus, if a person is at risk for HIV, it is essential that he or she be tested.

The most common HIV testing method is to draw blood and analyze it for HIV antibodies. These antibodies may not be present right away, so doctors recommend re-testing after three months and then perhaps again after 6 months to confirm a negative diagnosis. Antibody tests may also be run on material from an oral swab.

Other types of tests include the rapid HIV test, the p24 antigen test, and the PCR test. All should be done by a licensed medical professional. Traditional HIV tests may be conducted at home: You can purchase a kit, draw blood yourself, send it to the lab, and receive your results via phone.

All HIV/AIDS tests are confidential.

HIV Symptoms

Early HIV symptoms resemble the flu: fever, night sweats, persistent diarrhea, and fatigue. The lymph nodes in the armpits, neck, and groin may also be swollen.

Rapid, unexplained weight loss is also common, and the appearance of mouth sores or skin lesions is usually a tell-tale sign of an HIV infection. Other symptoms include a dry cough, pneumonia, and thrush.

Mental symptoms can include memory loss and depression.

HIV Treatment

Drug therapy is the most common treatment for HIV/AIDS. While there is no cure, regular treatment with antiretroviral medications such as NRTIs, NNRTIs, and protease inhibitors can suppress the development of symptoms, prolonging health and life expectancy. It is important to remember, however, that even while healthy, an infected person can still transmit the disease to others.

Alternative therapies such as naturopathic medicine, vitamin regimens, yoga, massage, acupuncture, and herbal remedies may be used to treat specific symptoms or opportunistic infections, as well as to enhance quality of life and supplement drug therapies.