Sunday, October 13, 2013

Living with HIV

Let's deviate from my usual random nonsense and talk about serious stuff. If you've read this blog for a while, you are probably aware that i am passionate about HIV awareness and prevention.  My project involved evaluating an intervention program geared towards African American women to see if it was relevant and they could actually practice what they learned in the program. I think in a lot of ways, the power structure in (some) AA heterosexual relationships is similar to African relationships. I chose to focus on AA women rather than MSM (men who have sex with men) because i felt that i whatever i learned, i could apply to African women and maybe extend that knowledge to do something in Nigeria. I just spoke to someone and was told that the awareness is still poor in Nigeria right now. It's an ongoing process in my head at this point. On that note, i'll share some basic information that someone might find useful.

Let me start by saying that HIV is not a death sentence. Thanks to new treatments, having HIV is like having any chronic illness like diabetes, HTN that you have to treat your whole life.  
  • FYI: HIV is a virus that attacks our immune system. Everyone has CD4 T cells which helps to fight infections and keep us healthy.  Our CD4 T cells have to be above a certain number for it to be effective. HIV causes AIDS by attacking our CD 4 T cells and killing them off. The lower your CD4 T cells, the less likely you are to be able to fight infections. When your body can no longer fight infections, that's when you have AIDS. This usually happens when the CD4 T cell is less than 200 OR you have certain kinds of infections or cancers that attack your immune system. 
  • Treatment can prevent or delay progression to AIDS. Without treatment it typically takes about 10 years. You shouldn't wait until you have symptoms to start getting treatment because you might not have any symptoms of HIV until the later stages when your immune system has already been damaged.
  •  In general, you start treatment if your CD4 count is less than 500, you are having severe symptoms or have developed other infections, you are pregnant, and you are ready to commit to taking medication everyday.  You HAVE TO be committed to whatever medications you start, otherwise you quickly become resistant to it and it won't work. So take your medications, correct dose and correct times every day. Don't start and stop. It's better to take a pill late than to skip the dose. Tell your doctors about ALL other meds (prescription, herbs, supplements, over the counter)  you are taking and other health conditions, so they can make sure there's no interaction.
  • Ongoing care - You should plan to see your doctor every 3-4 months for checkups, so they can be on top of things and know if the meds are working, check for complications from meds, how you are sticking to your treatment plan and help find solutions on how to deal with side effects of medications. You also need blood tests - CD4 count and Viral load tests. These are the only tests that can tell you how well you are doing, if your treatment is working or if the HIV is getting worse.
  • What you can do for yourself - Eat a balanced diet which can help boost your energy, avoid weight loss and keep your immune system stronger. Also, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep can help you handle the stress of HIV. I cannot stress how important it is to have a support system. Good family and friends can help cope with the emotional effects of HIV. You can also join an online support group. It is also important for you to know how HIV spreads in other to protect yourself and others.
  • How does HIV spread - It is NOT spread through air, water, saliva, tears or sweat. It IS spread through blood, semen (including pre-seminal fluids) and vaginal fluids by
  1. Having vaginal, oral or anal sex - the virus can spread through small tears or sores in mouth, anus or vagina
  2. Sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes that might have your blood on them
  3. Sharing needles and syringes
  4. giving birth - the baby can be infected during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. DO NOT breastfeed if you are HIV positive and get treatment while you are pregnant and treatment for the baby after birth. 
  • FYI. Protecting yourself and others. If you already have HIV it is NOT safe to have unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive as you can become infected with another strain of the HIV virus. If that happens, the meds you are on may not work on the new strain.
  • Know your STD status as you are 3-5 times more likely to infect others with HIV if you also have an STD or hepatitis
  • Don't share sex toys
  • Use a male or female condom anytime you have vaginal, oral or anal sex.
  • Don't share needles or other drug equipment
  • Know that you can still infect others even though you are taking your HIV meds
  • Tell all your partners that you are HIV positive before you have vaginal, oral or anal sex. 
*The odds of getting infected is not 1:1 (meaning it's not 100% certain you would be infected every time you have sex with an infected person) but it's better not to take that chance because it's like playing Russian roulette. In terms of getting the virus from sex-- Anal sex has the highest chance, followed by vaginal then oral.

Most of my info was gotten from PatientPoint. I picked up a handy pamphlet from clinic.

Trusted resources you can visit for reliable information

HIV Test Window Periods

Hope this turns out to be helpful to someone. I wrote this especially for my folks living in naija because i know you guys have to advocate for yourself when it comes to health care for any issue not just HIV. When they say knowledge is power, it's not a joke. If you are knowledgeable about whatever condition you are dealing with, you are able to deal with it better and get better care for yourself by being your own advocate. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor questions. KNOW what medications you are taking, the name, expected side effects. Ask questions! Seek a second opinion if you are not comfortable. Switch doctors. Don't accept anything you are told if you don't understand, ask the doctor to break it down and eliminate the doctor speak. I can't tell you how many patients (here) take medications but they can't tell you the name or why they are taking the medication. This is just generally advice about health care stuff not just HIV.

We have a lot of work to do on our health care system especially in Nigeria. I think health literacy is an area that needs more work but that's a different blog post.

Happy Sunday.

*IF you have any questions, you can ask me, I'm still a student so while i might not have answers, i can point you in the right direction. Otherwise, google is your friend.

*If you read this post to the end....Here's a cookie and a hottie of the day award. You are blessed and have been enhanced :)



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  2. very informative, but how is it easier to get infected through anal sex before vaginal sex ?

    1. The anal mucosa (wall) is very fragile and can be more easily breached than the vagina. So it's easy for the virus to get into the body that way.

  3. When I was in University, we were asked to volunteer for HIV Peer Education training. After undergoing the training (it lasted for a month), the instructors asked us to take a HIV test because we can't teach others about HIV if we don't know our status. None of us agreed to take the test lol and they had to hand us our certificates like that.

    However, living here, HIV is actually like a death sentence. In order to remain residents, we compulsorily have to take the test once in 2-3 years to get our visas and work permits renewed. Once positive, that's the end o, you have to pack your load and vacate the country. They are very intolerant to HIV positive individuals who want to settle here however the test is not compulsory for visitors or vacationers; only residents.

    1. Na wa....i would say everyone should get tested, just so you know. I've seen serious freaking out over pending HIV test results. It comes back negative and the person goes back to the same behavior. What do you say to those people?

    2. oh wow.. i didnt realise it was that serious in Dubai.

  4. Very informative. How long after contraction can the positive status of HIV show up in a test?
    @Beautiful, nawa o! That una country get as e be o!

    1. HIV window period can be from 9day to 3-6months. IT all depends on the person's body and the type of test used. Screening test is usually the ELISA test (about 3 months to detect) and to confirm after a positive test they use Western blotting. PCR can detect earlier but it's not routinely done. It's usually used for babies born to HIV positive mothers and to detect viral load. I'll put a link in the post where you can read more about HIV Tests window periods.

  5. You are just too wonderful as always!


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