With Charlie Sheen’s big announcement, here’re some FAQs on HIV

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Nov 17, 2015 16:05 IST
Charlie Sheen is set to make a “revealing” personal announcement during a live interview with NBC. (Shutterstock)

Charlie Sheen is set to make a “revealing” personal announcement during a live interview with NBC, the network announced on Monday, as celebrity websites reported the US star was HIV-positive.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions on HIV and AIDS to help you know better about the deadly disease.

What is HIV?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) if it’s left untreated. Since the human body cannot kill HIV, people who get infected have it for life.

How does HIV attack the body?

HIV destroys immune system cells called CD4 cells (T cells) that help fight off infections.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is prescribed to stop the virus from multiplying and help the infected person live a healthy life. An infected person should be put on ART right after diagnosis, recommends UNAIDS.

What is AIDS?

AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection when the immune system is so damaged that it cannot protect the body from opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, among others. A person is diagnosed with AIDS when the CD4 cells falls below 200 cells/mm3 of blood (against the normal CD4 counts of 500-1,600 cells/mm3) or when they have one or more opportunistic infections.

With treatment, a person with HIV may not develop AIDS.

With treatment, a person with HIV may not develop AIDS. (Shutterstock)

Where did HIV come from?

HIV is a mutant form of the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) found in chimpanzees in west Africa, and is likely to have been transmitted to humans when the chimps were hunted for meat or when people came into contact with their infected blood.

How does it spread?

HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids: blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. Behaviours that put you in contact with these bodily fluids put you at risk for getting HIV.

Who should get tested?

Everyone who is sexually active should get tested once in their lives.

Read: Charlie Sheen is HIV-positive, revelation after threat from exes

Others should get tested if they have:

1. Had unprotected sex (sex without a condom or without being on medicines that prevent or treat HIV)

2. Shared injected drugs (including steroids, hormones, vaccines) or injecting equipment (needles or syringes) equipment with someone who has HIV.

3. Got treated for sexually-transmitted diseases such as syphilis

4. Had unprotected sex with strangers

5. Been sexually assaulted

6. Are a woman planning to get pregnant or is pregnant

Women who are planning to get pregnant or are pregnant should get themselves checked for HIV. (Shutterstock)

How is the test done?

HIV tests are simple needle-prick tests that detect antibodies against HIV in the blood, but not the virus itself. Since it takes a few weeks for the body to produce the antibodies, get tested four-six weeks after exposure for accurate diagnosis.

What are symptoms?

Symptoms occur in late states and the only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.

Early signs: Within two to four weeks after HIV infection

1. Fever (this is the most common symptom)

2. Swollen glands

3. Sore throat

4. Rash

5. Fatigue

6. Muscle and joint aches and pains

7. Headache

Late signs: AIDS

1. Rapid weight loss

2. Recurring fever or profuse night sweats

3. Extreme and unexplained tiredness

4. Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck

5. Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week

6. Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals

7. Pneumonia

8. Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids

9. Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders.

Get tested four-six weeks after exposure for accurate diagnosis. (Shutterstock)

What’s the treatment?

ART is recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of how long they’ve had the virus or how healthy they are. It involves taking a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV regimen) every day, exactly as prescribed to stop HIV from multiplying and lower virus load in the body. If the virus is kept in check, the body’s immune system stays strong enough to fight off opportunistic infections and the risk of transmitting HIV to others is reduced.

Source: UNAIDS, US Department of Health and Human Services

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