What is HIV?
The ‘Human Immunodeficiency Virus’, or HIV, is a virus that spreads through body fluids which attack our immune system and make it weak. They attack mostly the CD4 cells, also known as T cells. These cells are attributed with the function of warding off diseases but with time, the virus kills off so many cells that the body loses its ability to fight infections and diseases.
Studies and statistics show that, every year in India, at least 1 million people get affected with HIV and it often proceeds further to the next stages because the people fail to recognize the early symptoms.
Symptoms of HIV:
The symptoms can vary from person to person but some general symptoms include body rashes, fever, sore throat, severe headache et cetera. Some less common symptoms include fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, ulcers in mouth or on genitals, joint pain, night sweats, etc. However, there are some specific symptoms in men like ulcers on the penis. There can also be an asymptomatic period where the affected person might not look or feel sick but during that window of time, the virus replicates and further weakens the immune system.
Apart from the flu-like symptoms, the common symptoms in women include menstrual problems. The affected person might get irregular periods, lighter or heavier flow and intense pre-menstrual or post-menstrual symptoms. The other symptom is PID, or pelvic inflammatory disease. It is an infection of the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Causes of HIV:
Studies have shown a lot of causes of HIV and the most common ones are – the spreading of the virus by sexual contact or blood or from mother to baby during childbirth and pregnancy.
The infected semen, vaginal secretions and blood should enter your body, to make you infected with HIV.
It can occur during sex, be it oral, anal or vaginal. The infected secretions enter the body through the mouth or seeps through some minute rent in the vagina or rectum that occurs during sexual intercourse.
You can also get HIV by blood transfusion, if an HIV+ person’s blood is transfused into your bloodstream. So now, blood banks run tests on the blood for HIV before storing it for emergency uses.
Sharing needles also make you prone to contracting HIV. Syringes from hospitals or operation theatres should be discarded after every use. Reusing needles or syringes, be it for operation or drug usage or tattoos can increase the chances of contracting the virus.
Getting tested for HIV, during pregnancy, is a common practice. If the results are positive then the mother can undergo treatment, which will also lower the risk of the baby getting HIV. Every gynaecologist now prescribes the expectant mother to get an HIV test.
HIV Testing & Costing:
There are several types of tests for HIV wherein the body fluids are collected and tested. Some HIV tests are:
- Antibody Screening Tests – Our bodies produce a certain kind of protein in response to the HIV. The Antibody Screening Test, also known as immunoassay or ELISA tests, checks for that particular kind of protein.
- Antibody/Antigen Combination Tests – these are highly recommended blood tests that check for the HIV antigen, a protein that is formed post two to four weeks after infection. This also checks for the HIV antibodies. A rapid antibody/antigen test can show pretty accurate results in 20 minutes.
- RNA test – this test looks for the virus directly. It does not even wait for the body to produce a sizeable amount of antigens or antibodies and can give accurate results after just ten days since infection. RNA tests are very expensive and the doctor prescribes it if you show some flu-like symptoms as well. The RNA test is also a follow-up test that the patient opts for, for the final verdict.
The HIV blood test cost in India is kept very lenient and minimal. The single blood tests are done free of cost at Government healthcare facilities and at the Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres (ICTC). The private centres charge about Rs. 500 for every blood test.
Treatment and Prevention of Transmission:
Although it might seem like HIV is incurable, there is HIV treatment that can make you sufficiently healthy and even cure you of it, provided, you notice the early symptoms and get yourself checked. The treatment for HIV is the Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). People doing the ART course, have to make a batch of medicines every day and this even reduces the risk of HIV transmission. The ART therapy aims at reducing the viral load so much that it almost becomes undetectable and hence, the transmission is made impossible as well.
If a person takes the HIV tests timely and on getting positive results, follow the ART sincerely, then she/he can beat the disease and prevent it from advancing to AIDS.