Can you believe that it’s been 100 years since the first reported case of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus? Since then, a lot of effort has been made in treating people living with the virus and finding a cure. I know a lot of people are curious about HIV, which is why I’ve got some answers here for you.

Are HIV and AIDS the same thing?

HIV is a virus that exists in humans and weakens their immune system. If left untreated it can lead to a condition known as the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). When your immune system is weakened completely, it becomes vulnerable to opportunistic infections (infections that take advantage of weakened immune systems). But not everyone who’s infected with HIV will eventually develop AIDS. Treatment for HIV has become so advanced that people can live long, healthy lives while having the virus.

How long does it take for HIV symptoms to appear?

Early signs and symptoms can appear as soon as a week after exposure to HIV. These symptoms are usually as severe as flu-like symptoms. At this point the body starts producing detectable levels of HIV antibodies (seroconverison stage). But these symptoms don’t affect everyone who gets infected with HIV. In fact, Some people can live without showing any symptoms for up to 10 to 15 years.

Do HIV symptoms differ in women and men?

Not really, HIV symptoms are generally the same for men and women. But symptoms can differ from person to person. Some women suffer from menstrual changes, increased risk to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and experience problems with their sexual reproductive organs. On the other hand, men can have severe early symptoms which can include forgetfulness, unusual weight loss and unexplained tiredness.

Can I use pre-exposure prohylaxis (PrEP) as my main HIV prevention method?

If taken as advised by your doctor, PrEP can give you a high level of protection against HIV. Keep in mind that Prep only prevents HIV infection and not other STDs and getting infected with other STIs can increase your chances of getting infected with HIV. The best thing to do is to make a habit of using condoms every time you have sex.

Does undetectable viral load mean you’re HIV negative?

Undetectable viral load simply means that an infected person has a very little level of the virus in their blood and it doesn’t show up in tests. This also means that you can’t pass it on to others, but it doesn’t mean that you’re now HIV negative or cured. If you stop taking your medication, your viral load will increase and become transmittable.

You can’t really know enough about HIV, so it’s good to keep asking questions and reading about it so that you’re sure that you’re making healthy and informed decisions about your sexual health and well-being.

If you or a friend need advice or help, you can contact me here on Ask Choma, send me a Facebook Messagea Twitter DM, or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657).