How Do I know If I Have HIV-1? Early Signs and Treatment Options

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Millions of people around the world are living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Yet many people don’t know 2 main types exist: HIV-1 and HIV-2. Read on to learn more about the most common type of HIV, along with its symptoms and treatment options.

What Is HIV?

HIV is a virus that attacks white blood cells (WBCs) within your immune system called T-helper or CD4 cells. WBCs help protect your body against illness and injury. 

This leaves you vulnerable to opportunistic infections (OIs) that exploit your immune system’s weakened state. When OIs occur, they tend to be more severe and happen more often. Examples of HIV-related OIs include tuberculosis and pneumonia.

What Is HIV-1 Vs. HIV-2? What’s the Difference?

HIV-2 is much less common than HIV-1. HIV-2 has mostly been seen in western Africa with a few cases reported in Asia, Europe, South America and the United States. 

Both produce similar symptoms and are associated with the same OIs. But HIV-2 tends to progress more slowly. That’s because people living with this type tend to carry lower viral loads. These lower virus levels make it harder to transmit from person to person. 

Left untreated, both can progress to the most severe stage of infection known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

How Does HIV-1 Spread to Others?

HIV-1 spreads through direct contact with body fluids that contain the virus. These include:

  • Blood
  • breast milk
  • pre-seminal and seminal (semen) fluids
  • rectal fluids
  • Vaginal fluids

A person with HIV can spread the virus to others, even if they don’t have symptoms. But they must have a certain amount of the virus in their fluids for this to happen. If their viral load is undetectable, they can’t transmit the virus to others.

What Are the Early Warning Signs of HIV-1?

Early symptoms of HIV-1 usually occur 2 to 4 weeks after infection. These include symptoms that often mimic the flu, such as:

  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Night sweats
  • Sore throat and mouth sores
  • Swollen lymph nodes, most often in the neck

What Are Later Symptoms of HIV-1?

After you recover from these first symptoms of HIV, you may have few to no symptoms for a while. But you may eventually experience chronic (long-term) symptoms as the virus spreads throughout your body and destroys your CD4 cells.

These include some of the early symptoms of HIV along with other serious infections or illnesses, such as:

What Are the Treatment Options for HIV-1?

Although health experts haven’t found a way to cure the viral illness just yet, antiretroviral therapy (ART) can help:

  • Control the amount of the virus in your body
  • Slow down the rate at which the virus spreads throughout your body
  • Prevent health complications

An effective ART regimen often involves a combination of at least 2 medications from 2 or more drug classes, some of which are combined into 1 pill taken once a day.

Intravenous injections may also be an option. These long-acting shots are usually given every 1 to 2 months. You may be eligible to switch to HIV treatment shots if you:

  • Don’t have any known allergies to the medicines used in it
  • Don’t have previous HIV treatments that failed
  • Have an undetectable viral load or have reached viral suppression (less than 200 copies of the virus per 200 milliliters of your blood)

To determine how well your immune system is working and the effectiveness of your HIV treatment, your doctor will order lab tests to measure your viral load and CD4 cell count.

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