HIV is typically detected using a blood or saliva test that looks for the presence of antibodies. The problematic part is that the human body takes about 12 weeks to form HIV antibodies. There is a more rapid test that screens for HIV antigen, which is a protein the virus produces quickly upon exposure. This test can verify a diagnosis shortly after exposure and enable the patient to take action much faster to prevent the further spread of HIV.
Testing at Home
Currently, there are only two FDA-approved HIV test kits for home use. One requires a blood sample while the other yields a result based on a saliva sample. If a home test kit shows a positive result, you must consult a doctor for a confirmation of the diagnosis as well as an in-depth discussion of treatment options. If the test gives a negative result, you should take it once more within a few months to make sure it is a true negative.
Tests for Staging and Treatment
If you are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, there are numerous tests your doctor can use to pinpoint the phase of the virus and also reach a decision on the ideal treatment route. The tests are:
- CD4 T cell count: This test counts your CD4 T cells, which are white blood cells that HIV is known to kill. Even if you are asymptomatic, HIV can turn into AIDS once your CD4 T cell count goes down under 200.
- HIV RNA: This test calculates your viral load, which refers to the virus amount present in the blood. A large viral load is correlated with more complications.
- Medication Resistance: Certain HIV strains are resistant to drug therapies, so this test assists your doctor in assessing whether the type of the virus you have is resistant, which figures into how they go about your treatment.
Given that there are also some complications associated with HIV/AIDS, your physician may request additional lab tests to screen for infections and other conditions such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, UTIs, or kidney and liver complications.
While HIV/AIDS is incurable, there are various medications to keep the virus under control, which is typically known as antiretroviral therapy or ART for short. Every category of drug inhibits the action of the virus in various ways, and physicians now recommend ART to everyone who is HIV-positive whether their CD4 T cell count is high or low. In most cases, the recommendation is to mix three drugs from two categories to prevent giving birth to HIV strains that are resistant to drugs.
The primary antiretroviral therapy drug classes are:
- NNRTIs (non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors) such as efavirenz or nevirapine
- NRTIs (nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors) such as Abacavir or Descovy
- PIs (protease inhibitors) such as atazanavir or darunavir
- Entry inhibitors (also known as fusion inhibitors) such as enfuvirtide
- Integrase inhibitors such as raltegravir
Individuals with HIV, notwithstanding their CD4 T cell count, should begin antiretroviral therapy, but starting treatment is especially imperative in the following cases:
- If you are experiencing severe symptoms.
- If you have an HIV-related opportunistic disease.
- If your CD4 T cell count goes below 350.
- If you are pregnant.
- If you have a kidney condition.
- If you are on treatment for hepatitis B or C.
Difficulties of Treatment
Treating HIV means taking numerous drugs at set times on a daily basis for life. Furthermore, every drug has its own cauldron of adverse side effects. It is vital to go for check-ups on a regular basis for a thorough monitoring of your overall health and efficacy of your treatment plan. Some side effects you may experience while in treatment are:
- Nausea, typically accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting
- Heart illness
- Loss of bone density
- Skeletal muscle breakdown
- Irregular cholesterol levels
- Increased blood sugar
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