AIDS testing can be a life-changing and scary event, but the key to treatment is early detection and strict monitoring of a person's immune functioning.
A positive diagnosis HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) or AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Virus) is a devastating event, but early diagnosis and monitoring is the most important part in treatment.
HIV can eventually lead to AIDS, sometimes at a very rapid rate, other times it takes several years, and sometimes, not at all.
When discussing HIV/AIDS, it is important to remember that AIDS is caused by HIV; one cannot get an AIDS infection without first having HIV (although cases have been reported).
As an HIV infection evolves and grows, the immune system is weakened, allowing for more opportunistic infections and a decrease in the immune system's ability to fight off illness.
Those with HIV undergo frequent tests to measure their body's
CD4 immunity cells. Over time, HIV will kill these CD4 cells and
replicate more of the virus, eventually dropping the CD4 levels to
extreme lows. Once CD4 levels fall below 200 cells/microliter, the diagnosis of
AIDS is made.
After contracting HIV/AIDS, the infection may not be detectable through testing for three weeks to six months, creating a very long window period.
Even though HIV/AIDS might not be detectable during this period, it's still possible to infect others. The first sign of something wrong occurs when those infected with HIV/AIDS begin having flu or mono-like symptoms – fever, fatigue, aches, and swollen lymph nodes.
However, most people won't assume that HIV/AIDS is the cause, so the proper test may not be conducted.
After these initial symptoms, HIV may enter into a latency or dormant stage, known as asymptomatic HIV. During this stage, the patient will have little to no symptoms for years, anywhere between 3-20 years. However, many HIV patients experience swelling of their lymph nodes.
Towards the end of this stage, those infected will finally display symptoms of fatigue, rapid weight loss, aches, and fever. This is an indication that HIV is starting to destroy the immune system.
Without treatment, 50 percent of HIV infected people progress to AIDS within ten years. AIDS is also diagnosed with the occurrence of specific diseases, such as pneumocystis pneumonia, cachexia or HIV wasting syndrome (rapid weight loss, muscle atrophy, fatigue, and weakness), and esophageal candidiasis.
People with AIDS have an increased risk of developing certain cancer, such as Kaposi's sarcoma, lymphoma, and cervical cancer.
Kaposi's sarcoma is the most common cancer occurring in 10 to 20 percent of people with HIV. Death in AIDS patients is primarily caused by cancer or by an illness like pneumonia, flu, or bronchitis.
The diagnosis of AIDS is a long process and involves a series of tests and monitoring. HIV/AIDS can be a very aggressive and deceiving virus, so vigilance is important.
First, the ELISA test is done on a blood or tissue sample to determine whether HIV antibodies have been formed. Antibodies are an immune response to an infection. If antibodies are present, it could mean that the HIV infection has begun.
If the ELISA test is positive, another test will be done – a Western Blot test. The Western Blot is used to ensure the ELISA's accuracy. With two positive tests, a person is considered to have HIV.
There is also the Rapid HIV test which is similar to the ELISA test but can deliver results 30 minutes or less, as opposed to standard ELISA/Western Blot combo that can take several days.
Rapid AIDS tests are performed using saliva or blood samples, and are shown to be as sensitive as a standard ELISA test. Results from these tests are either "negative" or "preliminary positive." Preliminary positives must be confirmed with a Western Blot performed in a lab. These tests are available commercially for home use.
Alternatively, book a confidential test online at a clinic near you.
As the HIV progresses, the immune system may become weaker, resulting in lower CD4 cells, which are the critical cells for preventing illness and opportunistic infections. Blood tests are used to determine the person's number of CD4 cells in a microliter of blood.
CD4 counts are between 500-1,500 cells/microliter. Most treatment guidelines
recommend that antiretroviral therapy be started with a CD4 count of
under 350 cells/microliter, or in the presence of an AIDS-defining illness. Once
the CD4 count reaches 200 and below, the person is considered to have
A diagnosis of HIV/AIDS has certain stigmas attached to it, which are thankfully fading away with time and as more people are educated.
Anonymous AIDS testing is available in which only a number is attached to the specimen, no names. However, not all testing sites do this.