HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is sometimes confused with AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), but they’re actually not the same thing. HIV is the virus itself, while AIDS is the condition that can develop in the late stages of an HIV infection. When managed effectively, you can live with HIV without ever developing AIDS.
Because HIV and/or AIDS compromises your immune system, it makes you very vulnerable to opportunistic illnesses and very difficult for your body to fight them off and recover.
HOW IS HIV TRANSMITTED?
HIV is passed when infected blood, semen (including pre-cum), vaginal fluids, anal mucous, or breastmilk enters the bloodstream through an open cut or sore, by direct injection, or through a mucous membrane (eg: rectum, vagina, tip of penis, and—in rare cases—mouth.
A person’s HIV viral load (the amount of HIV detectable in your blood) greatly affects the virus’ ability to be passed on. You can never completely eradicate HIV, but taking maintenance medicines consistently and getting regular viral load tests can lead to an undetectable viral load, which would effectively remove the risk of sexual transmission.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE HIV?
The only way to know for sure is to get tested. Here’s an up-to-date list of different testing locations across the Philippines and how to contact them. It includes private and public hospitals, and NGOs. Along with counselling services, many government programs and NGOs provide HIV testing for free and, if you’re worried about going to a hospital, many NGOs also hold testing in non-hospital locations.
WHEN SHOULD YOU GET TESTED?
People sometimes notice flu-like symptoms in the first couple of weeks after infection, but the truth is that it’s very possible to live for years without realizing you’ve contracted HIV. But while you might be symptom-free, you’re still very much infectious and your condition could worsen at any time. You’re most at risk of infection if you have sex with a new partner, if your partner/s have sex with a new partner, or if you shared a needle with someone. These (with the exception of needle-sharing) also increase the risk of contracting other STIs. Conveniently, HIV clinics provide testing for these as well. So if any of these apply to you, go get tested!
HOW CAN YOU GUARD YOURSELF AGAINST HIV?
PrEP is an antiretroviral drug that, when taken regularly and correctly, can reduce the risk of contracting HIV (either sexually or intravenously) to nearly zero. It’s available through HIV testing locations, usually for P1,500-P2,400/month.
Open communication with your sexual partner/s is also very important. It may sound like a real mood-killer to raise questions like “when were you last tested?”, but your health is way more important than avoiding a potentially awkward situation!
Even while taking precautions, people can mess up. Facing the possibility of testing positive for HIV is understandably scary, but if you’re worried you may have been exposed, it’s very important to get tested. If your results are negative, you can put your mind at ease. If you test positive, the clinic will help create a maintenance plan to keep the infection under control and you can take the needed steps to ensure that you don’t infect others. Thanks to advances in HIV treatment, being HIV-positive is very manageable and no longer a “death sentence,” but you can only manage what you know you have.