Sexual contact, specifically unprotected and penetrative, is one of the three ways from which HIV can be transmitted. Based on when your last sexual contact was, how would you know if it’s the right time for you to get tested?
Knowing your status is important, but knowing your status at the right time may spell the difference in doing the right thing in safeguarding your health. If you knew your status the soonest, you could either start protecting yourself by practicing safer sex behaviours, or you could start your treatment right away. But how would you know when is the best time to get tested?
If not knowing about your status is something that is bothering you,then you can consider having yourself tested for the virus. If you suspect that you might have been exposed to the virus due to possibly risky activity, going to accredited HIV testing centers such as LoveYourself can help address any concerns you may have by having yourself tested while getting counseled through the process. Counseling helps you clear your doubts, assess your risk factors, and guide you through the testing process. Searching online for bits and pieces of information about HIV may give you some ideas about the virus, but may end you up making false decisions or scaring yourself. Counselors are there to help you assess whatever information you may have and help you face the situation more positively. Moreover, counseling services such as those provided by clinics like LoveYourself are free and all information are treated with confidentiality. LoveYourself’s clinics at LoveYourself Anglo and LoveYourself Uni are safe spaces where you can feel secure and cared for.
Knowing the Window Period
To give you an overview on how you could determine if it is the right time for you to get tested, you must understand what the Window Period is first. This is the time between a potential exposure to HIV infection and the point when the test will give an accurate result.
LoveYourself’s clinics at LoveYourself Anglo and LoveYourself Uni advise a window period of three months. This means that if you suspect to have been infected by HIV, three months after the sexual encounter is the recommended time to get tested.
If you have a pretty active sex life, you should consider having yourself tested in regular intervals corresponding to the window period suggested by your chosen clinic. If your test results are non-reactive, this is a chance for you to practicing safe sex. Plus, there are many ways on how you could still have safe and satisfying sex while minimizing the risks of acquiring the virus, including correct and consistent use of condoms and water-based lubricants. If you are a Person Living with HIV (PLHIV), you have to religiously and responsibly undergo timely treatment as prescribed by your doctor to continue having a healthy, normal lifestyle. Furthermore, a PLHIV undergoing treatment can still engage in safe sex activities, without the risk of passing the virus to someone.
Finding out one is infected with HIV still comes as a shock to most people. However, being infected with the virus is not the end and one must not lose hope. Antiretroviral Therapy or ARV is administered to those who tested reactive to the virus and works by suppressing the HIV virus and preventing it further from replicating within your body. Getting detected earlier is also key, as it allows for interventions to be administered earlier and for the body to combat the infection before it advances further.
About our CD4 cells
First let us briefly talk about how HIV affects the immune system. In the blood, the white blood cells are responsible for fighting off infections. These white blood cells have several types, including the CD4 lymphocytes. CD4 lymphocytes are also known by their other names – T cells or helper cells. They are particularly called helper cells because they send signals to other types of immune cells which destroy the infectious particle – which may be a virus, for example.
HIV binds itself to the CD4 lymphocytes rendering these cells useless. HIV then uses the machinery of the CD4 lymphocytes to replicate itself. Without the CD4 cells, the immune system cannot know that there is an infection they have to combat, rendering the body defenseless.
This is one of the reasons why CD4 count, or the number of CD4 cells in a sample of blood, is obtained from a person who tested reactive to HIV. A healthy individual has a CD4 count of anywhere between 500 – 1,600 cells/mm3. An HIV infection, left untreated, drives the CD4 count lower. A person with a CD4 count of 200 cells/mm3 becomes susceptible to infections.
ART helps PLHIVs live a normal lifestyle
ART deactivates the HIV virus preventing it from multiplying within the body. It is usually prescribed the soonest a person is tested to be reactive to the virus, regardless of CD4 count levels. This is the reason early detection, when a person’s CD4 count is still within acceptable levels enabling the body to fight infections just as a healthy person would, is key.
ART, however, is a lifetime medication that has to be taken regularly. It will not be effective when not taken in regular intervals as it will allow the virus opportunity to replicate within the body. Its regular and consistent intake ensures that the virus will continually be suppressed. With regular and consistent treatment, the numbers of the virus within the body, or the viral load, decreases until the person will not be able to infect someone else with the virus.
It is important to emphasize and reiterate, however, that ART is a lifetime medication that must be consistently taken. The government has extended its hand in helping out in the HIV crisis by allowing Philhealth members get ART medication for free. However, obtaining this medication must be consulted first and prescribed by your doctor.