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HIV Causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection occurs through the transfer of semen, blood, vaginal fluid, pre-ejaculate, or breast milk. Infection is generally transmitted through unprotected sex, contaminated needles, breast milk, and from an infected mother to her baby at birth.

Most HIV infected individuals eventually develop AIDS. Treatment with anti-retrovirals increases the life expectancy of individuals infected with HIV/AIDS. It is hoped that such evolving treatments will allow people with HIV/AIDS to achieve a normal life expectancy.

Learning about a positive HIV test can be overwhelming for an individual, but medical advances have allowed people who are infected with the virus to lead more normal lives through the regular use of medication. Early detection through blood tests allows a person who has HIV to consult a medical professional to delay the onset of AIDS and prevent symptoms from interfering with their everyday lives.

What Is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that severely weakens the immune system of a person who is infected with HIV. Unlike most viruses, it is not possible for the human body to rid itself of HIV. This means that a person who is infected with the virus will have it for the rest of their lives.

The virus weakens the immune system by attacking essential white blood cells in the body. These particular white blood cells, known as CD4+ cells, are critical in protecting the human body against disease. Once too many white blood cells are destroyed by the virus, an infected person's body will be unable to fight disease.

HIV is transmitted from one person to another through bodily fluids. The virus can be carried in infected blood, semen or vaginal fluid. Mothers who have HIV may pass the virus on when they give birth or breastfeed. Sexual contact and sharing needles are the two most common ways that HIV is transmitted.

The virus is unable to live outside of the human body for long periods of time, so it is not possible to contract the disease through casual contact with an infected person. A person who has HIV will eventually develop Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), but the length of time that it takes to develop AIDS can be greatly increased through the use of medication. The immune deficiencies related to HIV can also be reduced with medication.

Symptoms of HIV

Many people do not know that they are infected with HIV because symptoms can take years to manifest. When symptoms do start to affect a person, these symptoms begin with mild, flu-like symptoms. Headache, fever, sore throat and muscle weakness or pain are common symptoms of HIV in the early stages of the virus.

Even if a person begins to feel symptoms of HIV, it is not uncommon for these symptoms to present for only a few weeks at a time. An infected person may assume that they had a cold or the flu, and it is possible for no symptoms to be felt again for years. HIV eventually presents permanent symptoms including persistent fever, weight loss, extreme fatigue and swollen lymph nodes.

Although treatment methods were limited in the past, medical advances have allowed scientists to develop medications that keep most of the symptoms of HIV under control. These medications can also slow the weakening of the immune system to allow an infected person to lead a normal life.

HIV Statistics

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are over one million people in the United States who are infected with HIV. Nearly 50,000 additional cases of HIV occur each year, and 90 percent of new HIV cases are transmitted through sexual contact. Twenty percent of people who have HIV are not aware that they are infected. Living with HIV without being aware of the disease prevents essential treatment options that could otherwise reduce the severity of symptoms of HIV.

Reasons to Order an HIV Blood Test

Ordering a blood test that detects antibodies related to HIV is important if there is even a slight suspicion that the virus has been contracted. One reason for ordering this test is to access early treatment methods as soon as possible. Treatment is often able to delay the development of AIDS, and people who are able to start medication early may be able to avoid experiencing symptoms of HIV.

Another important reason for ordering an HIV blood test is to protect sexual partners. Since the virus is often contracted through sexual activity, people who suspect that they have been exposed to the disease should opt for a test to protect themselves and their partners.

Women who would like to become pregnant or who are pregnant and planning to breastfeed should consider an HIV blood test if there is any chance that they were exposed to the virus. Blood tests allow mothers to protect their babies by being aware of the precautions that they will need to take during and after pregnancy.

Related Tests to Consider through Health Testing Centers

Anyone who is interested in the HIV blood test should also consider the Early HIV Detection test. This test uses a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test to detect materials in the blood that are associated with the presence of HIV. The benefit of the Early HIV Detection test is that the blood can be tested as soon as two to three weeks after a person is infected with HIV.

If HIV is suspected because of sexual contact, a person may want to consider an STD Peace of Mind - Level I Panel. HIV, Hepatitis B, genital herpes and syphilis can all be detected through this test.