Health: HIV symptoms take time

By Jennifer Kim/Health Department, Published:

Currently, 35 million people worldwide are estimated to be infected with HIV. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a deadly virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). There are currently 8,900 people in the state of Kentucky known to be living with HIV infection.

HIV is transmitted several ways. These include a needle stick or unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex. Any contact with infected body fluids, like semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk, can transmit the illness. HIV cannot be passed to other individuals by casual contact like hugging, handshakes and sharing toilettes. HIV is a fragile virus; once it hits the air outside the human body it will die.

During the early stage of HIV infection, a person may show flu-like symptoms such as fever, sore throat, fatigue, body aches, diarrhea and weight loss. Most people who carry HIV infections go on living without noticing any signs and symptoms.

In fact, it can take up to 10 years before HIV infected individuals start showing symptoms of HIV infection. Fungal pneumonia, called Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP), and Kaposi’s sarcoma, a type of cancer of blood vessels, are only seen in people with AIDS.

Research has shown that early detection can save lives. HIV testing can help individuals know their HIV status, therefore preventing the spread of infections to other people. 

Moreover, anti-retro viral medications can suppress a person’s HIV viral load, making it undetectable. This reduces a person’s ability to infect other partners. Unfortunately, 88 percent of HIV infected individuals in Kentucky still have high viral loads making them infectious to their partners.

Early diagnosis

Early diagnosis can help prolong lives of HIV infected individuals. For example, Magic Johnson announced to the world that he had HIV in 1991 and today the former basketball star is still going strong, more than 20 years later. Rapid HIV testing facilitates the opportunity for HIV prevention education to those who test negative and linkage to HIV care for individuals who test positive. If the test result is positive, persons with HIV infections can be linked to care.

The University of Kentucky Ryan White Clinic is a HIV specialty clinic located in Lexington that provides a wide variety of health related services for HIV infected persons. Ryan White Clinic offers primary care, drug programs, housing assistance and mental health assistance. Treatment for HIV can be costly. It is estimated that the U.S. government spends $355,000 to provide lifetime HIV treatments.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages people to get tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime. HIV testing is recommended more frequently whenever risk factors for HIV are high.

Effective July 1, all health departments in Kentucky will be offering rapid HIV testing. This will be an oral swab or finger stick test. Results will be accessible in about 20 minutes and on-site counseling will be readily available. This is exciting news because people can find out their HIV results quickly. 

HIV testing can be performed at the Franklin County Health Department by appointment or by walk-in. The testing can be provided anonymously, meaning that your identification is not required at the time of the test. All testing is done on a confidential basis. For more information, call the FCHD at 502-564-7647.

Jennifer Kim, RN, is a Local Health Nurse I and HIV Coordinator at the Franklin County Health Departments, 100 Glenns Creek Road.

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