Testing for HIV human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus infamously responsible for the deadly sexually transmitted disease known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), is now easier than ever. The RNA test can help you detect the virus when it is most potent, in as little as 2-3 weeks after infection.
The sooner that you are tested, the stronger the chances of prolonging your health without serious tissue damage to your immune system. It is now possible to drop your viral loads down to undetectable levels that also mean that the virus is virtually untransmittable.
Preserving your health while scientists engineer new treatments to eradicate and cure HIV patients is an important part of being responsible and preventing the spread of this virus. It also may be the difference between being fully cured and substantially cured in the near future.
New HIV Eradication Method (PrEP)
Scientists have already developed a treatment that is available if you suspect you were infected with HIV to eradicate the virus before it sets in. However, the treatment must be taken within the first 72 hours after exposure to HIV.
This pre-exposure prophylaxis method prevention (PrEP) is more effective if you take it as soon as possible. You are given powerful anti-viral drugs that are ordinarily used only to treat people in later stages of the infection. When taken as directed, the odds of destroying the virus at its weakest phase are estimated to be near 100%.
Aside from medical accidents and sexual assaults, people who are at the highest risk need to keep taking the drugs to prevent an infection because they engage in risky behaviors as a lifestyle choice. This includes sex workers, homosexual men, and IV drug users, who make up the bulk of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) candidates.
When HIV infects an individual, it always infiltrates with its strongest and most active mutation of the virus. However, it has been discovered that about 5-15% of European Caucasians are immune to HIV because they have a genetic mutation that prohibits HIV from binding to a key CCR5 receptor site on CD4 T helper cells.
Many innovative HIV drugs bind to these receptors to block the infiltration of HIV and the destruction of immune system CD4 T helper cells. HIV is a retrovirus that hijacks the body’s natural DNA replication devices to make copies of itself. It actually rewrites the cellular DNA coding of immune cells that it infiltrates.
The resistance to HIV has been discovered by examining people who were engaged in long-term relationships with people who were HIV+, commercial sex workers, and IV drug users, who never caught HIV despite years of high-risk activity and certain exposure.
In other cases, infants were born to mothers infected with HIV and did not catch it. While drugs like AZT have been developed specifically to reduce the chances of a mother transmitting the virus to her newborn, in these cases no drugs were taken.
Asians and Africans do not have the gene mutation that inhibits HIV infection at the CCR5 receptor. This leaves them particularly susceptible and may explain to some degree why the spread of HIV among commercial sex workers in Asia and Africans is so high.
Some of these genetic factors may also play a strong role in why the disease progresses much slower in some people than others. Other alleles (gene mutations) have been studied in commercial sex workers in Kenya and Thailand who are at high risk.
They also produce different immune responses that demonstrate from continuous exposure to small amounts of HIV that their bodies know how to fight it. There is not just one factor that is responsible for contributing to the resistance of people who appear to be immune.
HIV Testing and Seroconversion Sickness
Despite the ease of testing, the 4th generation RNA test is still mostly used to check viral loads of people who have HIV rather than for the initial detection. This is because people usually don’t get tested until they are sufficiently sure that they have something wrong with them and suspect it is HIV.
Traditional testing methods focus on looking for certain antigens and antibodies associated with HIV infection in the incubation phase that follows seroconversion sickness. The seroconversion sickness is estimated to occur in 50-90% of people who have recently acquired an HIV infection.
While sickness may alert them to the presence of the virus, many people often fall into denial and think they have a common cold or the flu because the symptoms are so general or asymptomatic. For those who are presented with no symptoms at all, they are at the highest risk for transmitting the virus and infecting new unsuspecting people.
The seroconversion sickness phase can begin as early as 1 to 2 weeks after infection. The strongest indicators of HIV seroconversion that occur most frequently are a non-itchy reddish macular rash and a low-grade fever if experienced simultaneously.
The severe manifestation of a non-itchy rash that does not resemble hives may itself be the strongest indicator. People who have stronger immune systems are logically less likely to experience these symptoms. This may be younger healthier people who live in third world countries and live in squalor.
This would explain, in part, why HIV is more prevalent in poorer and less sanitary regions of the world. Not only is testing less frequent, but they may be asymptomatic with greater frequency because the seroconversion phase is an immune response.
The Most Common Symptoms of Seroconversion
- non-itchy rash
- low-grade fever (below 100°F)
- oral ulcers or thrush
- pain in joints
- sore throat
- muscle pain
- feeling fatigued
- inflamed and swollen lymph nodes
- night sweats
- flu-like symptoms
- painful swallowing
- abdominal pain
- and more …
The Incubation Phase
After the window phase and subsequent seroconversion phase, HIV can lie dormant in the body for 9-11 years before it begins to exhibit symptoms again. This range is determined pursuant to the subtype of HIV.
HIV is a lentivirus which means that it is a deadly group of retroviruses that incubate for long durations of time in their host to sustain the life of the host in order to increase the odds of mass transmission.
How is HIV Transmitted?
HIV is mostly passed by blood that is exchanged during sexual intercourse (especially anal sex) or IV drug use. High viral loads of the virus are found in semen. Traditional vaginal sex with a healthy partner that does not have any open sores and is not menstruating or lacking natural lubrication is the lowest risk method of sexual transmission after oral sex.
Nevertheless, microscopic dermabrasions are sufficient for the virus to transmit during sexual intercourse. Men who are not circumcised are at the highest risk because there are many T cells that HIV likes to infiltrate in the foreskin. In addition, the delicate foreskin tissue is more prone to tearing and transmitting blood during intercourse.
HIV also infects macrophages that are located in the central nervous system and tonsils. When they infect these multinucleated cells, they produce concentrated volumes of the virus.
HIV is unique in the sense that it creates several variations and mutations of the virus in a single day. It can even combine two different subtypes of the virus infecting the same cell together to build a hybrid virus. This also makes it much harder to nail down and treat with one substance to eradicate it.
Transmission can occur from intense contact with blood, breast milk, semen, pre-ejaculation fluids, vaginal fluids, and in infants born to HIV+ mothers.
It is not possible to get an infection by merely holding hands, kissing, or contact with fluids that have already been exposed to open air. It is when there is intimate contact that brings open fluids in contact with open wounds (no matter how small) that infection can occur.
Sex, especially rough sex with lots of tearing of delicate mucous membranes and bleeding, presents the highest risks for infection after dirty syringes. The risk of transmission from oral sex is considered to be as low as .01% or less.
HIV is not transmitted through saliva. Therefore, the odds are slim to none of becoming infected if you are receiving. If you have open sores in your mouth or an infection, then the chances of becoming infected by giving oral sex are theoretically not impossible, although it is unclear if any certain cases were reported.
However, unsafe oral sex is still dangerous because you can still acquire the lifelong disease of herpes and even antibiotic-resistant strains of STD bacterial infections.
How HIV Infects/What is the Cure?
An HIV infection targets the immune system cells of the body, specifically the CD4 T helper cells. Some of these cells have a certain glycoprotein on their surface that HIV has an affinity for penetrating along with the receptor sites.
HIV kills off these immune cells by leading the cell to self-destruct in a process called pyroptosis. The cell recognizes that it a virus has invaded it and released inflammatory cytokine proteins that signal other immune cells to attack.
This process normally works to eradicate a serious disease but fails with HIV because the virus buries itself into the bone marrow itself and is not addressed at its root. In fact, the only currently recognized cure for HIV is to have a bone marrow transplant.
Although some people are resistant to certain strains of HIV from genetic mutations, there are no cases where anyone has been deemed fully cured of HIV except for Timothy Ray Brown. He received a bone marrow transplant for leukemia from someone that was immune to his form of HIV.
HIV progresses into full-blown AIDS when the number of CD4 T helper cells becomes very low and the body is no longer able to fight off opportunistic infections such as the infamous Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia that exposed the HIV epidemic growing in gay communities of the USA.
You don’t die from AIDS itself. You die from the weakest pathogens because your body is defenseless to fight them off once your immune system tissue is damaged beyond repair.
History and Origins of HIV
The Discovery of HIV
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) began as an epidemic that was first observed in the United States in 1981. The outbreak showed that IV drug users and homosexual men were developing a type of pneumonia that was historically seen only in people with severe immune deficiencies.
Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia is commonly found in the human body but easily suppressed unless the immune system is very weak. After the initial reports, other gay men were diagnosed with a rare skin cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) then formed a task force to monitor and deal with the outbreak. Scientists had originally named HIV “lymphadenopathy” due to its similarities with other diseases that inflame the lymph nodes.
The CDC originally named the virus gay-related immune deficiency (GIRD) until they realized that it was not an exclusively homosexual virus. HIV was also termed “the 4H disease” as a notation for the largest affected groups: Haitians, hemophiliacs, heroin addicts, and homosexuals.
It wasn’t until 1982 that the name AIDS was voted into effect as an acronym for the final stage-4 progression of HIV known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
The Origins of HIV
The HIV pandemic appears is the most successful sexually transmitted virus that ever existed to weaken and kill human beings. The HIV retrovirus likely originated in Midwestern primates of Africa and spread to humans mysteriously through the process known as zoonosis.
The bird flu, swine flu, and even rabies are different types of zoonoses that are transmitted to humans. In most cases, the virus combines with a human form of the virus like the influenza virus to create infectious human pandemics. Rabies is the more unique form of direct zoonosis where an animal virus infects a human directly after a bite.
There are two different forms of HIV. HIV-1 is thought to be the most infectious and is the version that people commonly develop. This version of the virus was thought to originate from the simian immunodeficiency virus that is commonly found in the Pan troglodytes subspecies of African chimps in the Cameroon Republic.
The HIV-2 strain is remarkably similar to the simian immunodeficiency virus found in the sooty mangabey Cercocebus atys chimpanzees that inhabit the West African coastal region of Senegal to the Ivory Coast.
HIV-2 is rarely found outside of West Africa because it may have evolved into a strategy that reduces viral loads responsible for pathogenic transmission in order to ultimately sustain its host longer.
The problem with both types of HIV is that they keep mutating, and it is possible to be infected with multiple versions of HIV that are mutating even in the body and developing drug-resistance.
It is believed that the wild game trade that exposes hunters, vendors, and consumers of bushmeat to the simian version of the HIV virus, multiple times in quick succession, is the underlying factor for mutation and development of HIV.
A single exposure is easily suppressed by the human immune system in a few weeks because the virus is very weak. The transmission may have been linked, historically, to syphilis outbreaks in colonial Africa among prostitutes who had genital sores that made vaginal transmission possible.
The stronger theory is that dirty single-use syringes left over after WWII were reused for vaccinations and other treatments that exposed massive numbers of people to the blood-infused virus.
This theory makes more sense when we consider that the risk of transmission through vaginal sex is very low and that IV needle contamination risks are very high. There is strong documented medical evidence to theorize that the virus was present as early as 1959 in the Belgian Congo region.
Different Types of HIV Tests
The antibody test is usually not possible until at least four weeks have passed since suspected HIV infection. This can be done with a tiny drop of blood from your finger. When the test results show that you are negative or non-reactive, then you are HIV-.
If you test positive, it is rare for it to be a false-positive. A positive test means that you likely have HIV. The period from infection to the production of antibodies is called the “window period” when the risk of transmission is the highest.
The Western Blot test is a more sensitive antibody test that is used to confirm a positive result. This ensures that there is no similar antibodies detected but only those specifically linked to HIV.
The antibody test is often combined with an antigen test that scans blood samples for the p24 protein associated with HIV infection. This is sometimes called a 4th generation test.
The protein 24 (p24) is active 2-3 weeks after infection but is only detectable for 1-2 months. The combined tests are able to detect 95% of all HIV infections after four weeks. This makes them preferable over the antibody test alone that is rarely recommended before six weeks.
A small percentage (approximately 5%) may have a delayed reaction to HIV. For this reason, it is suggested that a second test be performed after three months and again after 6-months to confirm HIV- status.
RNA PCR Test
This method can detect HIV in as little as 3 days after infection but can take as long as 4 weeks to ensure certain results. The focus of the test is to look for copies of the HIV virus RNA itself in the blood. PCR is an acronym for Polymerase Chain Reaction.
This test is also called the Viral Load test because it can be used to measure how many copies of the HIV virus are circulating in the bloodstream and the effectiveness of treatment. HIV is made of the genetic material ribonucleic acid (RNA) that rewrites human DNA of infected cells to replicate itself.
Because viral loads are high immediately after infection, it is useful but often used in limited cases. These are usually when the person knows they engaged in a high-risk activity that makes the odds 50/50 (e.g., sex with an infected person not on treatment). It is also used for infants born to HIV+ mothers.
The 4th generation test, administered after four weeks, is one of the most accurate tests because it checks for antigens and antibodies. The viral load test will likewise detect up to 95% of new HIV infections from 3-days to 6-weeks after exposure.
The viral load test is most useful for proving the effectiveness of a treatment plan. It is believed that undetectable levels of HIV RNA correlate with near zero risk of transmission.
HIV is extremely difficult to attack because it builds reservoirs in a variety of critical cells in the central nervous system and immune system. The HIV virus can be hidden for many years in bone marrow stem cells. The onset of AIDS can cause bone marrow defects.
The Later Stages of HIV, AIDS
The final stages of HIV can be full of many opportunistic infections because the immune system is so severely compromised. Cancers, fungal infections, pneumonia, colds, flu, etc. can all lead to complications and death.
The lymph nodes deteriorate from years of fighting off the infection. The virus mutates into a more aggressive form and increases the viral loads in the body. This form destroys the CD4 helper T cells faster than the body can create replacements.
The respiratory system may develop, Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia, Tuberculosis, or Kaposi’s Sarcoma (cancer). The gastrointestinal system may develop Cryptosporidiosis, Candida, Cytomegalovirus, Isosporiasis, or Kaposi’s Sarcoma (cancer).
The nervous system becomes susceptible to Toxoplasmosis, Cryptococcosis, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer), and Herpes simplex. The skin becomes ripe for Kaposi’s sarcoma (cancer), Herpes simplex, and Varicella Zoster (shingles). These diseases are as bad as they sound when you have AIDS.
HIV is not diagnosed as AIDS until the carrier has either developed multiple opportunistic infections that indicate a compromised immune system or when it is verified that they have low levels of T helper cells remaining.
Nevertheless, there is hope with the medical innovations that are extending life indefinitely by obstructing the ability of HIV to replicate and infect cells. Getting tested today and seeking prompt treatment can ensure a long and happy life.