Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks cells in the body that help it combat infections, making a person more susceptible to other infections and diseases. Contact with the body fluids of an HIV-positive person, most often during unprotected intercourse (sex without the use of a condom), or sharing drug injection equipment spreads the virus.
HIV cannot be eradicated by the human body, and there is no successful HIV cure. As a result, if you have HIV, you will have it for the rest of your life.If HIV is not treated, it may progress to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
People with HIV, on the other hand, can live long and stable lives while preventing HIV transmission to their sexual partners by taking HIV medication (also known as antiretroviral therapy or ART). There are also effective strategies for preventing HIV infection from sex or drug use, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
AIDS is a late stage of HIV infection in which the body's immune system has been severely impaired by the virus.
A person with HIV is considered to have progressed to AIDS when:
Their CD4 cell count drops to less than 200 cells per cubic millimetre of blood (200 cells/mm3). CD4 counts range from 500 to 1,600 cells/mm3 in people with a healthy immune system.
Regardless of their CD4 count, they develop one or more opportunistic infections.
People with AIDS have a three-year survival rate if they do not take HIV medication. Without treatment, a person's life expectancy drops to around a year after acquiring a dangerous opportunistic disease. At this point of HIV infection, HIV treatment can still benefit patients, and it can even save their lives. Patients who begin antiretroviral therapy (ART) as soon as they are diagnosed with HIV gain more benefits, which is why HIV testing is so necessary.
Testing is the only way to know for sure whether you have HIV.Depending on the length of exposure, a number of HIV tests are available.Several establishments provide a private and confidential Anonymous HIV screening to encourage more people to come in and screen for HIV.
Anonymous HIV testing is performed using a rapid test with results available in minutes.Prior to the exam, you will be asked to complete a simple form that will be used to collect demographic data for the Ministry of Health, but no personal information such as name or contact number will be recorded.
There will be no notice to official bodies if your result is positive because no personal information was registered.
When to test for HIV?
The window period is the interval between infection and seroconversion where infection markers (p24 antigen and antibodies) are still missing or too scarce to be detected. During the window period, tests cannot always detect HIV infection.
All tests have a window period, which varies depending on the test.It's worth noting that after contracting HIV, there's a period of time when no test can reliably detect it (day 1 till day 12). If anyone takes an HIV test during this period, they might get a false-negative result.Since there are differences between individuals, it's difficult to tell how long the window period for any test lasts.
For example, the following are the actions to be considered following an exposure towards HIV:
Day 1-3 : Consider Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
Day 1-11 : No HIV test available
Day 12 onward : HIV RNA/DNA PCR test
Day 14 onward : 4th Generation Combo test can start detect the infection but may have false negatives
Day 28 onward : 4th Generation Combo test (>95% accuracy)
Day 90 onward : 3rd Generation Ab-only test (>99% accuracy)
4th Generation Combo Test
When a person is infected with HIV, their immune system produces antibodies in response to the p24 antigens on the virus. P24 antigens are a component of the virus, and studies show that they occur within two weeks of HIV infection. HIV tests of the fourth generation can detect both HIV antibodies and p24 antigens, whereas older versions could only detect antibodies.As a result, a fourth-generation test can detect HIV as early as one month after a person contracts it, making it highly accurate.
Fourth-generation HIV tests may accurately diagnose the virus as early as one month after infection and may be considered definitive. However, it is recommended that HIV testing be repeated three months and six months after the HIV threat as part of the HIV testing protocol.
Nonetheless, the window period for fourth-generation tests is estimated to be 18 days, with half of all infections identified between 13- and 24-days following exposure. Even if it takes a little longer in certain cases, 95-99 percent of HIV-infected people are detectable within 28 days of exposure.
3rd Generation Ab-only Test
When you become HIV-positive, the body begins to develop specific antibodies (proteins that attach to the virus to try and destroy it). Antibodies to HIV are found in your blood, oral fluid, and urine in an HIV antibody test. If you have these antibodies, it means your body is responding to an HIV infection and you have HIV.
The 3rd generation test is only made to detect HIV antibodies. It will detect antibodies like immunoglobulin G (IgG) and immunoglobulin M (IgM), but not to the p24 viral antigen.Since it takes three months for the body to create enough antibodies for it to show up in a test, this test is only valid three months after exposure.
What happens when you go for a test?
Your healthcare provider will speak to you about your sexual well being and why you've decided to test before you take the test. This will help them better understand your situation and provide you with the best services and advice possible.
Remember that the healthcare provider is not there to make any judgments. There will be nothing you can say that they haven't already heard, so be open and truthful, and ask as many questions as you want. That's why they're there in the first place.
Normally, testing involves taking a small blood sample from a finger prick or drawn from your arm.
The length of time it takes for HIV test results to be returned is determined by the type of test you are taking. You can get your results within 20 minutes if you are taking a rapid exam. Other forms of samples might be submitted to a laboratory, and the final result could take anything from a few days to a few weeks.
Even when today's tests are extremely accurate, if your result is positive, you should have a second confirmatory test to double-check your results. If this is also positive, you will be diagnosed with HIV and will be likely to start treatment.