HIV is a retrovirus that can be spread through sexual intercourse, with the risk being higher in those not using condoms, having multiple partners and certain sexual practices such as anal intercourse.
The virus attacks and weakens the immune system (CD4 T cells) which eventually leads to AIDS where the body is susceptible to infections that would not normally cause an issue in a healthy individual.
Patients that contract HIV can sometimes present with a seroconversion illness – this is a flu-like illness which can present up to 6 weeks after exposure. In some patients the only symptom may be a generalised and persistent increase in the size of glands (lymph nodes). However, in many patients there may be no symptoms for many years.
Developing AIDS is not inevitable – the advances in HIV treatment mean that if diagnosed and treated early enough the life expectancy is similar to that of an individual without HIV. This has been a huge advancement in recent years and emphasises the importance of early testing.
Testing for HIV can be done as early as 10 days after exposure by looking for the genetic code of the virus itself (HIV RNA), or after 28 days by testing for HIV antibodies (the immune system response after HIV infection) and a specific HIV protein (p24 antigen).
A post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can be offered to patients that have had high risk exposure – this involves taking anti-HIV medication for 28 days (consisting of 3 active drugs) and reduces the chance of developing HIV. It must be taken within 72 hours of high risk exposure (the earlier the better) for it to be effective. The medication does have side effects which can result in patient’s not completing the course.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an option for HIV negative patients that are at high risk of contracting HIV (e.g for individuals whose partner is HIV positive, men who have sex with men). This involves taking an anti-HIV medication (Truvada) on a daily basis or a short regime during the time of intercourse. Studies have shown PrEP greatly reduces the transmission of HIV.
We offer a complete range of HIV testing with fast results and comprehensive advice. Book a completely confidential consultation with a highly experienced and sensitive GP to discuss your concerns or arrange testing.
Please contact us for further information.