HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that attacks the important cell that make up the human immune system.
HIV, like all viruses, uses the mechanisms of the host’s (infected person) cells to reproduce or clone itself. This enables the virus to grow stronger while quickly destroying the host’s immune system.
Unfortunately, if HIV is left untreated, the immune system is destroyed and the person loses the ability to fight off other viruses and infections he or she comes into contact with. This stage is when the person has developed aids or acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Contrary to popular belief, being infected with HIV does not mean that an individual will develop aids. There are a growing number of treatments that can help. Possibly the most vital step anyone who believe they may have come into contact with HIV can do is to get tested.
Standard HIV testing uses one of the following:
- Blood sample
- Saliva sample
- Urine sample (least common)
The tests look for antibodies that the body produces to fight off the virus. In most individuals the antibodies develop within 12 weeks of infection. In rare cases it may take up to six months for these antibodies to show up in testing. This delay is usually due to another medical condition such as an autoimmune disease.
The optimal window for testing is usually between three and six months after possible infection. If the antibodies are not present at the sixth month mark, the person is definitely HIV negative.
Most HIV tests are performed at doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals or special testing facilities set up in highly affected areas. Some HIV tests can be performed at home. These tests are then usually sent to a lab which tests the sample and calls the individual with the results.
Though there are several methods for individuals to get tested, a surprisingly large number of possibly infected people do not get tested. In fact it is estimated that one in five people who are HIV positive in North America do not know they are infected.
It is very important for anyone who may have been infected by HIV to receive testing. This can make a huge difference in treatment. Treatments have the highest success rates for those detected early. Testing also helps infected individuals take extra precautions to pervert the spread of HIV.