When a person is infected by HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), he/she is known as being HIV+. However, the infection is not immediately detectable after exposure to the virus. This is because HIV can take between one to three months to incubate, depending on the individual’s constitution. After that window period, there will be sufficient HIV antibodies in the person’s system to be detected through an HIV antibodies test. That test is the only method by which to diagnose and confirm the infection.
One or more of the following symptoms may be present. These usually last from a week to as long as three months.
There is often under-diagnosis of the HIV infection because it does not present any specific or unique symptom(s). Those stated above can actually be caused by many other infections or diseases. Furthermore, HIV symptoms very often resolve spontaneously in most people. However, even after the resolution of symptoms, active viral replication continues inside the body, compromising the person’s immune system.
An HIV+ person remains infectious for the entire duration of the infection. However, he/she is the most infectious during:
a) Seroconversion upon initial infection, when the body is producing antibodies; and
b) Late-stage of the disease if left untreated.
An HIV+ person has to regularly monitor the strength of his/her immune system. This can be checked using two tests.
CD4 cells are a type of white blood cells that fights infection, and are a major target for HIV. As the virus gets into the cell and replicates, the number of CD4 cells in the blood gradually declines.
Normal CD4 counts in adults range from 500 to 1,500 cells per cubic millimeter of blood. However, a standard reference range is not available for this test. After diagnosis, a first test is done to determine the person’s CD4 count. That figure serves as the baseline measurement for monitoring purposes.
This test measures the level of HIV in the blood to determine the staging and outlook of the disease. Viral load refers to the number of HIV particles or copies of the virus present in the body.
Treatment should be considered for patients whose viral loads are higher than 30,000 copies per milliliter of blood (using the branched DNA test) or more than 55,000 copies (using the RT-PCR test).
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