HIV is something that still strikes fear into the hearts of men over 25 years after first being discovered. It’s estimated that over 25 million people have died from the disease since it began to be measured, and that currently 0.6 percent of the world’s population, or 34 million people have some form of it.
Initially, symptoms of HIV in men are hard to diagnose because they mimic those of other less serious illnesses. We will discuss them in detail shortly, and the stages the HIV goes through.
The main thing to note about the disease is that it’s no longer the killer it used to be. Modern drug therapies and treatments mean those with HIV can now lead perfectly normal lives. That is if the disease is identified early enough.
There are many myths about HIV and AIDS, and we hope to address some of them here. This infection is far too serious for ignorance to have any place near it.
What is HIV?
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus is an infection that is passed through bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluid, breast milk, infected drug needles, and rarely, organ or blood transplants. It used to be primarily associated with homosexual activity, but heterosexual activity has now far surpassed that in transmitting the disease.
The virus can also be passed on through direct contact with infected blood. For example, by using infected needles for injections, piercings or tattoos, or from accidental injury with a needle containing infected blood. It can also be transferred from mother to child if she has HIV during pregnancy.
HIV is different to AIDS. In fact, doctors rarely use the term anymore. It is now referred to as “Late-stage HIV infection.” AIDS occurs when the HIV virus has killed too many T-helper cells in the human immune system to defend it from attack. This allowed normally defensible infections like cold or flu to take hold and break down the immune system before overcoming the body.
It’s difficult to identify if you have the disease as it can be asymptomatic. That means symptoms of HIV in men can be undetectable unless you display certain markers.
Initial Stage of HIV
The primary stage of HIV infection is often called seroconversion in medical circles. Many people develop symptoms, but many do not. Any symptoms of primary stage HIV will occur between two to six weeks after infection.
Symptoms of HIV in men and women include:
- Sore throat
- Tiredness or lethargy
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Swollen glands
These are not the only symptoms, merely the most common. As you can see, each symptom could be one of many things other than HIV, so can easily be mistaken for something minor. The giveaway is the rash. As a fever or sore throat isn’t usually associated with a rash in cold or flu, it is a sign of possible infection.
After the initial stage of infection has passed, there will be no more symptoms of HIV in men or women. This can last up to twenty years. This is because the infection has “settled” in with the immune system and sets to work attacking it. The length of time it takes to reach late stage HIV depends on the overall health of the sufferer.
In healthy people, it can take up to those twenty years for the immune system to be broken down enough to allow late stage symptoms in. Even though there are no symptoms, the virus is hard at work attacking the body.
Late-stage HIV, or what was called AIDS, is when the virus has broken down the immune system to such a degree that a minor issue can rapidly become life threatening. While it can take up to twenty years to reach late-stage in healthy people, the average seems to be around ten.
Once the sufferer reaches this point, their health becomes precarious, and great care has to be taken to minimize exposure to almost every type of virus.
Common late-stage symptoms of HIV in men are:
- Persistent tiredness or lethargy
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Persistent diarrhea
- Blurred vision
- White spots on the tongue or mouth
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- A fever of above 100F that lasts a number of weeks
- Swollen glands that last for more than three months
These are more identifiable, but it’s typically too late for conventional drug therapies. To survive during late-state HIV takes serious hospital treatment. Even then, it’s still possible to survive a number of years at this stage.
There is no cure for HIV. However, advances in drug therapy means there are treatments which can delay the effects of the virus. Modern therapies can reduce the amount of the virus in the body and slow down its effects on the immune system.
These drugs can delay or prevent late-stage HIV, and protect against normally harmless viruses wreaking havoc over a broken immune system.When used appropriately and taken properly, anti-HIV medicines can help sufferers stay well and live a full life.
Once the number of CD4 white blood cells has fallen to a suitably low level, or if the sufferer becomes pregnant, a doctor will recommend starting treatment with medicines. They may also start treatment if the sufferer develops a serious infection or a condition linked to advanced HIV.
Even though the symptoms of HIV in men are often missed, or misdiagnosed, the earlier the virus is detected the better. There are now a number of drug therapies on the market which are effective in slowing down the advance of HIV, and protect the immune system against attack.
Normally a combination of drugs will be needed to properly treat HIV.These medicines prevent the virus from reproducing in the body, which reduces the amount of it in the blood. HIV gets its strength from numbers, just like any virus. Interrupt that and it weakens enough for the immune system to keep it in check.
Medicines also stop the virus from mutating when it reproduces. This ensures drug therapy remains effective and prevents the virus changing to work around them.
Sufferers will probably take three medicines, which are often combined into one or two pills taken daily. This is known as antiretroviral therapy, combination therapy, or HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy). They have proven themselves to be effective in combating the advance of HIV.
Myths about HIV
You can tell if someone is HIV-positive simply by looking at them. This isn’t true. The vast majority of people with HIV look perfectly normal. It’s only in late-stage HIV that other, more obvious symptoms emerge. Even then they aren’t automatically identified as HIV.
You can’t get HIV from straight sex. This isn’t true either. Heterosexual intercourse is now the most common way of acquiring the virus. It accounts for the vast majority of new cases right across the world.
Only gay men get HIV. See above. Straight sex has been the most common way of catching HIV, since 1999. The majority of people who get HIV now are heterosexual.
HIV can be passed through urine or saliva. Not true. The virus isn’t present in high enough numbers to pose a threat this way.
Touching someone with HIV can pass it on. Again, untrue. HIV cannot be passed on through activities, such as sharing cutlery, sitting on toilet seats or by shaking hands. Neither can it be passed on through a mosquito bite or bites from other animals or insects.
It’s better to know than not know! GET TESTED.