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19th of January 2018


6 Facts About HIV/AIDS That Might Totally Shock You

Unlike other illnesses, HIV doesn’t always come with a set of easy-to-recognize red flags. “Many people with HIV cannot remember being ill at all prior to diagnosis, and in 2015 over 50 percent of those diagnosed with HIV were estimated to have had it for at least three to seven years,” says Mortara. As a matter of fact, the virus’ inconsistent, mild, and sometimes nonexistent symptoms can cause even the most meticulous doctors to misdiagnose HIV as something entirely different.

According to Kristin Englund, M.D., infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, people infected with the virus may or may not experience minor flu-like symptoms—such as fever, malaise, body aches, night sweats, rash, and sore throat—which can first show face anywhere from two weeks after the virus is acquired up to late in the final stages of infection. At that point, which could be years down the road, the damage to the immune system is usually already done. “Night sweats, swollen lymph glands, weight loss, and chronic diarrhea can also indicate an HIV infection, though they can be caused by many other diseases,” says Englund.

To make matters even more complicated, these issues often disappear quickly, allowing HIV to fly under the radar—and blinding doctors and patients to the fact that there’s something seriously wrong. Meanwhile, the viral infection is still brewing under the surface, gradually breaking down your immune system.

“These HIV symptoms are usually self-limited, so they resolve within a week or so,” says Malvestutto. “It’s actually very difficult for people to identify the symptoms, which is why by the time an infected person gets concerned enough to show up to the emergency room, most medical providers just say let’s see how things go in the next few weeks. And when the symptoms go away within another week, there’s no thought that this was an HIV infection at all.”

And it’s when someone who is HIV-positive doesn’t feel or look sick that the risk of passing along the virus to someone else is greatest. Because getting tested by a medical professional is the only surefire way to know if you have HIV, Malvestutto strongly recommends not relying on HIV symptoms alone—and not waiting for a doctor to ask you if you want to get tested—in order to request an HIV exam. “It’s important for women to really take charge and have that conversation about risk factors for HIV with their medical provider, and just get tested,” says Malvestutto.

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