HIV Testing Introduction
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV destroys the body's immune system and eventually leads to AIDS. People with AIDS develop many diseases and "opportunistic" infections (such as
pneumonia, tuberculosis, cancer, and skin infections) that may ultimately lead to death. Prevention is critical. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but currently, there are effective treatments that can drastically slow the disease process. If you have been exposed to the HIV virus in any number of ways, you can very easily be tested to determine whether or not you have been infected with the virus.
- How HIV is transmitted
- The HIV virus can be transmitted by unprotected sexual contact (vaginal, anal, or oral sex), sharing needles, by transfused blood products, from mother to newborn, and by occupational needle-stick exposures.
- Higher risk of HIV transmission is associated with penile anal intercourse and IV drug abuse.
- Higher risk of HIV transmission is associated with a higher number of sexual partners.
From the minute the HIV enters the body, the virus begins replicating at a rate of 10 billion new specimens per day. In fact, it is during this early burst of viral replication, within the first month of contracting HIV, when patients are mostly asymptomatic, that the virus is high in numbers and more likely to be spread from one person to another.
- Ninety to 95% of all new HIV infections occur in developing countries, such as in Africa and Asia, where the vast majority of cases are transmitted by sexual relations between men and women (heterosexual intercourse).
- In the United States, there are over 1.2 million people living with HIV, and there are an estimated 40,000-50,000 new HIV infections per year. Shockingly, it is estimated that 20%-25% of HIV-positive patients are unaware that they are infected.
- The vast majority of cases are known to have been transmitted by homosexual and bisexual men and IV drug abusers. Among homosexuals, it appears that the receptive partner during anal intercourse is placed at highest risk for disease transmission.
- The incidence of HIV is approximately three times greater in males than in women.
- Among heterosexuals, male-to-female transmission is much more likely to occur than female-to-male transmission.
- The incidence of HIV transmission is lower in
- The presence of other sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes and syphilis can facilitate the transmission of HIV.
- The incidence of HIV transmission is seven times higher in African Americans as compared to Caucasians.
Leon Salem, MD, MS, FACEP
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