HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, strikes fear into the heart of sexually active people everywhere. It is especially fearsome to gay men, who were the target of the rampant HIV and AIDS epidemic back in the 1980s and 1990s, before the disease was truly well understood. To this day, HIV is still devastatingly common in places such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where it affects millions of men, women and children every year.
The statistics are, in fact, quite shocking, according to the World Health Organization: “Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and about 35 million people have died of HIV. Globally, 36.9 million [31.1–43.9 million] people were living with HIV at the end of 2017. An estimated 0.8% [0.6-0.9%] of adults aged 15–49 years worldwide are living with HIV, although the burden of the epidemic continues to vary considerably between countries and regions.”
Again, this is especially true in Africa, where “The WHO African region remains most severely affected, with nearly 1 in every 25 adults (4.1%) living with HIV and accounting for nearly two-thirds of the people living with HIV worldwide.” (1)
Luckily, the solutions are astonishingly, and hearteningly, widespread as well: “21.7 million people were receiving antiretroviral treatment by end 2017,” which equates to almost 60 percent of them. (2) Recent research indicates that with the proper antiviral treatment, especially if the disease is caught and responded to early, people can still live long and healthy lives with HIV, and can avoid passing it on to other people.
That, of course, means staying vigilant – even in developed countries.
What Is HIV and How Common Is It?
HIV is a virus that spreads mainly through sexual fluids and blood. Once inside the system it attacks your body’s immune cells, which limits their ability to fight off diseases. If your body can no longer respond effectively to invaders, you are vulnerable to opportunistic diseases such as pneumonia and cancer. At this point, you are considered to have AIDS, which stands for acquired immune deficiency disease.
Sadly, HIV is far from an uncommon occurrence. “According to CDC, 1.1 million people in the US are living with HIV, and 1 in 7 of them don’t know it. In 2015, 39,513 people were diagnosed with HIV infection in the U.S. in 2015,” says the American Sexual Health Administration, or ASHA.
Nor does this disease only affect the younger set, adds ASHA: “In 2013, an estimated 42% of Americans living with diagnosed HIV were aged 50 and older, 25% were aged 55 and older, and 6% were aged 65 and older.” (3)
That means it’s important for everyone who is sexually active to remain on the lookout for HIV at all times. Not just young people, not just gay or bisexual men, but everyone. And that starts with symptoms.
HIV Symptoms in Men vs Women
Note first of all that the symptoms of HIV really aren’t different in men and women. They do vary by individual, however, depending on how your system reacts and what symptoms you tend to experience with any given infection. The most common symptoms include:
- Fever and chills
- General or unexplained fatigue and muscle aches
- Sores on the genitals or in the mouth
- Unexplained rash
- Night sweats
- Sore throat and swollen lymph nodes
When the symptoms first appear, usually between 2 and 4 weeks after contracting HIV, you may feel like you have the flu. That’s because your body is mobilizing its resources to try and counteract the virus. This, however, is a fruitless effort. “Unlike some other viruses, the human body can’t get rid of HIV completely, even with treatment,” says HIV.gov. “So once you get HIV, you have it for life.” (4)
The next “symptom” is when you start experiencing opportunistic infections due to AIDS, which is likely to be years or even decades down the road. Because of this, and because of the fact that many people will attribute those early symptoms to a long flu rather than a potentially devastating STD, it’s important to test.
Why and How Should You Test for HIV?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested once for HIV. Because the virus can go undetected for so long – while still remaining virulent and transmissible to partners – it’s the only responsible thing to do. Depending on your sexual behavior, it’s likely you qualify to get tested much more often. According to the CDC, you should get tested if (5):
- You are a man who has had sex with another man at any point
- You have had sex with someone known to have HIV
- You have had more than one sexual partner since you were last both tested
- You share needles for the purpose of injecting drugs intravenously
- You have exchanged your body for money or drugs
- You have been diagnosed with or sought treatment for STDs other than HIV, which can make the transmission of HIV more likely
- You have had sex with someone whose sexual history you don’t know
- You have had sex without full awareness of who your partners were or what you were doing
- You have had unprotected sex
As you can see, that is a lot of variables. To boil it down, though, you should get tested any time you switch partners or feel unsure about their sexual history. But just how should you do it, and do you really need to visit the doctor every few months?
How to Test for HIV at Home
The problem with frequent testing for most people is that, no matter how often they switch partners, they’re simply not going to go to the doctor that often. It’s better to deal in realities than “shoulds,” however, which is why we’ve developed a tool that will help you counteract this basic fact right here at home: the iDNA home test kit. It looks for more than a dozen sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and you never have to leave your home to do it. You simply order the home test kit, collect your sample, and mail it off to the lab for your results. Only if you get a positive result do you need to book an appointment with your doctor.
It’s never too early to take control of your sexual health, so feel free to get in touch with us to ask questions or order a kit today!
(1) HIV/AIDS Global Health Observatory (GHO) Data. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/gho/hiv/en/
(2) HIV/AIDS Data and Statistics. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/hiv/data/en/
(3) Statistics. (2019). Retrieved from http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/statistics/
(4) What Are HIV and AIDS? (2017). Retrieved from https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/what-are-hiv-and-aids
(5) Testing. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/testing.html