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HIV Testing And Counseling

What Is HIV Testing?

Sunday, April 21, 2013 - 15:36

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

HIV testing involves having your blood, urine, or saliva tested to see if you are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS.

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency (or immune deficiency) syndrome. It is a disease in which a virus attacks the body's immune system that normally fights off diseases. Medication is available to help control AIDS symptoms, but currently there is no cure for AIDS.

HIV is transmitted through body fluids - primarily semen, vaginal fluids, and blood. People can get HIV in several ways:

  • Having sexual relations with an infected person
  • Sharing infected needles, such as through the use of illegal drugs
  • Having a blood transfusion, although today this is very rare
  • HIV can be transmitted from an infected mother to her unborn baby
  • Babies can get HIV through an infected mother's breast milk
  • Accidentally getting stuck with a needle containing infected blood, such as in a healthcare setting

In the U.S. today, nearly one million people are believed to be infected with the HIV virus, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, many infected have never been tested for HIV and are not benefiting from medications that could keep them healthier longer.

It's extremely important people know if they are infected with HIV for these reasons:

  • HIV infection does not usually produce any symptoms; symptoms begin when HIV infection becomes AIDS. Because of this, a person may be a carrier of HIV without knowing it and may infect others.
  • If HIV is detected and treated before it has developed into AIDS, a person's long-term survival can be significantly increased.

What Is AIDS?

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency (or immune deficiency) syndrome. It results from infection with a virus called HIV, which stands for human immunodeficiency virus. This virus infects important cells in the human body called CD4-positive (CD4+) t cells . These cells are part of the body's immune system, which fights infections and various cancers.

When HIV invades the body, it begins to attack white blood cells called CD4+ t cells or t4 lymphocyte cells. Without these white blood cells, the immune system - which normally fights off infections - loses its ability to defend against diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic organisms. Without enough CD4+ T cells, the body becomes vulnerable to certain rare cancers.

There is no cure for AIDS, but medical treatments can slow down the rate at which HIV weakens the immune system. As with other diseases, early detection offers more options for treatment and preventing complications.

What Is The Difference Between HIV And AIDS?

The term AIDS refers to an advanced stage of HIV infection, when the immune system has sustained substantial damage. Not everyone who has HIV infection develops AIDS.

When HIV progresses to AIDS, however, it has proved to be a universally fatal illness. Few people survive five years from the time they are diagnosed with AIDS, although this is increasing with improvements in treatment techniques.

Experts estimate that about half the people with HIV will develop AIDS within 10 years after becoming infected. This time varies greatly from person to person, however, and can depend on many factors, including a person's health status and health-related behaviors.

People are said to have AIDS when they have certain signs or symptoms specified in guidelines formulated by the CDC.

The CDC definition of AIDS includes:

  • All HIV-infected people with fewer than 200 CD4+ t cells per cubic millimeter of blood (compared with counts of about 1,000 for healthy people)
  • People with HIV infection who have at least one of many AIDS-associated conditions that are the result of the HIV attack on the immune system

AIDS-associated conditions include:

  • Opportunistic infections by bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Opportunistic infections are infections that are rarely seen in healthy people but occur when a person's immune system is weakened.
  • The development of certain cancers (including cervical cancer and lymphomas).
  • Certain autoimmune disorders.

Most AIDS-associated conditions are rarely serious in healthy individuals. In people with AIDS, however, these infections are often severe and sometimes fatal because the immune system is so damaged by HIV that the body cannot fight them off.

Need To Know:

How HIV Infection Is Not Spread

Research indicates that HIV is NOT transmitted by casual contact such as:

  • Touching or hugging
  • Sharing household items such as utensils, towels, and bedding
  • Contact with sweat or tears
  • Sharing facilities such as swimming pools, saunas, hot tubs, or toilets with HIV-infected people
  • Coughing and sneezing

In short, studies indicate that HIV transmission requires intimate contact with infected blood or body fluids (vaginal secretions, semen, pre-ejaculation fluid, and breast milk). Activities that don't involve the possibility of such contact are regarded as posing no risk of infection.

Facts About HIV Infection

  • As of 2001, an estimated 850,000 to 950,000 Americans were living with HIV/AIDS among 40 million worldwide, according to the CDC.
  • About 40,000 new HIV infections occur each year in the U.S., with about 70 percent among men and 30 percent among women. Of these newly infected people, half are younger than 25 years old.
  • AIDS is now the fifth leading cause of death in the United States among people aged 25 to 44.
  • Through December 2001, the total number of deaths of persons reported with AIDS is 467,910 in the U.S. according to the CDC.
  • About one quarter of HIV-infected persons in the U.S. are also infected with hepatitis C.
  • The estimated annual number of AIDS-related deaths in the U.S. fell about 70 percent from 1995 to 2001, from 51,670 deaths in 1995 to 15,603 deaths in 2001.
  • In the U.S., 175 children age 13 and younger were living with AIDS in 2001. The majority of children had mothers with or considered at risk for HIV exposure. The estimated number of new pediatric AIDS cases (cases among individuals younger than age 13) in the U.S. fell from 954 in 1992 to 101 in 2001.
  • Women worldwide are becoming increasingly affected by HIV. Approximately 50 percent (18.5 million) of the 37.1 million adults living with HIV or AIDS are women, according to the World Health Organization.
  • More than 40 million adults and children worldwide are now living with HIV, with the vast majority living in developing countries.
  • 5.3 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2001 alone
  • AIDS-related deaths reached a record 3 million worldwide in 2001 alone.



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