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What is HIV?

HIV is an acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This virus affects human beings in that the body's immune system is rendered deficient. Thus HIV is a virus that weakens people's defence system. A weakened defence system is not in a good state to effectively fight off pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. Consequently, people who are HIV-positive are prone to infections which would otherwise not be a problem to people who are HIV-negative.

What is AIDS?

AIDS is an acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. This stands for: acquired through infection, and not by genetic transmission. affects the immune system, which is used to fight off pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. results in a deficiency of the immune system by rendering it incapable of effectively defending the body's health. syndrome implies the problems AIDS brings to the body cover a wide range of different diseases and opportunistic infections.

When does HIV become AIDS?

Being HIV-positive, does not necessarily mean that you automatically have AIDS. You only get diagnosed with AIDS if HIV has seriously damaged your body's defence system to such an extent that you become ill from infection or get a specific form of cancer. These medical conditions are called opportunistic infections. PCP (a kind of pneumonia) or Kaposi sarcoma (a form of cancer) are examples of opportunistic infections. to the top

How does the HIV test work?

For an HIV-test, your blood is drawn and then two tests are performed on it in the lab. Both tests check to see if you have antibodies for the HIV virus; each tests does this in a different way. The first test is called ELISA (or EIA), and the second test is called the "Western Blot". If antibodies are found, that means that you have been infected by the HIV virus. Antibodies are proteins that the body's defence system (the immune system) produces to fight the HIV infection. It takes about a fortnight to get the results of the test. There is also a test producing quicker results than the ELISA; you can get the results in about a half an hour.

What does 'viral load' mean?

Viral load is the amount of the virus in a given volume of blood.

What are CD4 cells?

CD4 cells are defence cells in the blood.

How do you read the results of a blood test?

The blood test reveals the number of CD4 cells (defence cells) and the viral load (the amount of virus in the blood). These blood tests are of importance in making the choice whether to start the combination therapy or if you should use the combination therapy.

What is the 'combination therapy'?

The combination therapy (or 'cocktail') is a regimen of three or four different anti-HIV drugs. These remedies used against HIV are also known as antiretrovirals. The objective is to stop the replication of the virus, since the body's defence system has been compromised and can no longer repair itself.

When should you start the 'combination therapy'?

When starting the combination therapy, there are guidelines you should follow. These guidelines are determined by your bloodwork and depend on your CD4 count and your viral load. If your immune system is very compromised, then you will probably be strongly advised to start the medication as soon as possible. If your immune system is still reasonably strong, then you might not be advised to start the medication immediately. It is not only the viral load and the CD4 count to consider; you, yourself must make a choice. After starting with the combination therapy, your daily life may change; you might get side effects from the medication. You need to take the medication following strict guidelines.

What should you do if you forget to take your medication?

If you forgot to take your medication, take it as soon as possible. Thereafter, you can return to your normal medication schedule. If you're not sure if you took your medication, then it's best to just take it again. At the time of your next dose, you might discover that you forgot to take your previous dose; then just take your next dose at the scheduled time. But as a rule, don't take double doses. You might bring this up with your HIV specialist for advice.

Is it possible to temporarily stop the medication?

Temporarily stopping medication is being called a "therapy interruption" or a "drug holiday"; talk about this with your HIV specialist. This can be of benefit to you when you are bothered by the side effects of the drugs. The disadvantage of taking drug holidays is that your CD4 count could decrease and your viral load could increase.

What precautions must you take about your medication when on holiday?

Ask your HIV specialist for a doctor's letter to travel. It should mention that your medication is taken for a chronic condition. HIV should not be mentioned in the letter. The exact content of a doctor's letter may differ from hospital to hospital. The letter is written in English. In the event of a delay or lost baggage, always take a large supply of the medication and carry it in your hand luggage. If you're going on a long trip, ask your HIV specialist about a 'medical passport'. This can help provide proof to customs that your medication is for private use. to the top Are there travel restrictions for HIV-positive people? Some countries have travel restrictions against visitors who are HIV positive. In this case, make sure you have a doctor's letter, especially if you are going to use medication. In this letter (written in English) it should mention that you need the medication for medical reasons. If you plan to stay longer or are going to work for a long period, some countries require a doctor's letter declaring that you are not HIV positive.

What is Lipodystrophy?

This is the change in distribution of fat throughout the body as a side effect of the combination therapy (both protease inhibitiors as well as nucleoside analogs).

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Enjoying sexuality

HIV doesn’t have to keep you from enjoying sex. Sexologists have a rather technical way of describing how sexual enjoyment works. It often begins with being in the mood for sex. You want to have sex and you become aroused. But it is also completely normal it your appetite for sex comes only after you have become aroused. Your vagina will become moist and swell up slightly or you will have an erection. You might also have an orgasm as a ‘reward’. And afterwards it’s time to relax and catch your breath again.


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