Undercover HIV

Undercover HIV

HIV is the Human Immune-deficiency Virus. HIV is found in body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, breast milk and other fluids containing blood. Contact with saliva, tears, or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV. A person's immune system recognizes the germs and viruses and fights the infection. The immune system has two important parts: CD4 or Helper T-cells: lead the body's defense system. Antibodies: the flags or signals made by the body's immune system that shows that there is an infection and also provides information on the type of infection.

The first few weeks after infection

During this period you might think that you have flu or look and feel fine. Even if you take an HIV test it will be negative because the virus is undercover as your immune system has not developed anitbodies to fight off the HIV. Between two and six weeks after infection, the immune system begins to recognize the HIV and produces antibodies. If you are to test during this time you will most likely test positive as the immune system has developed anitbodies to fight off most of the initial attack by HIV. The viral load (number of virus) is low and the person usually looks and feels fine for a long time. Once infected it is always possible for the person to pass the virus to someone else if they have unprotected sex.

A person can live with HIV without any symptoms for many many years.

While there are no symptoms, the virus will continue to increase by attacking the CD4 cells that lead the bodies defence system. As the viral load increases the CD4 cells decrease and the immune system becomes weaker and weaker. A person may still feel well or only have minor symptoms such as mild skin rashes, dry skin, cold sores or more regular colds.

Eventually HIV destroys more and more of the CD4 cells and the person will begin to feel unwell. The immune system is very weak; the person is likely to develop life threatening infections such as pneumonia, TB, brain infections, cancer, or fungal infections like oral thrush. During this time, the person is more likely to infect someone if they have unprotected sex because of the high levels of virus in the body.

AIDS is the last phase of HIV infection.

A person has AIDS when his/her immune system is destroyed and there are fewer than 200 CD4-cells left in the body while there is a lot of HIV in the body (a high viral load). By this stage, the person is very ill as the immune system is not able to fight off any infections. Sooner or later everyone who has HIV will need to start taking anti-retrovirals to prolong their lives.

Anti-retroviral Therapy (ARTs) is a combination of two or three different anti-retrovirals (ARVs) that are used to fight off advanced HIV infection or AIDS. They do not cure HIV but reduce the viral load that results in less of the virus and a stronger immune system. ARVs, like other medicines, have side effects and these vary from one person to the next. The side effects usually get better over some weeks. It is important that once someone starts on ARVs that they continue taking their ARVs for the rest of their lives because if they stop they will become sick again and the medicines will not work effectively.

About Scrutinize

Scrutinize is a public health campaign which encourages the Youth to "scrutinize" or understand their risk of HIV infection in relation to multiple concurrent partners, correct and consistent condom use, transactional sex (sex for money), intergenerational sex (sugar daddies) and alcohol use.

Scrutinize is a national campaign being undertaken by the JHU Program in South Africa and funded by USAID/PEPFAR.