HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This sexually-transmitted infection damages your immune system, particularly the CD4 cells that are meant to ward off the infections on your body. As the virus kills these helpful cells, you’ll be prone to serious infections and diseases.
It’s transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breast milk. You can get it through vaginal or anal sex, sharing needles with an HIV-Positive individual, and sharing tattoo equipment with an infected person. Infants from HIV-Positive mothers also have a higher risk of getting infected.
According to a UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) report regarding the Global HIV epidemic, the Philippines has become the country with the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific.
It has been reported that the number of new infections in the country has doubled in the past six (6) years– from an estimated 4,300 in 2010 to an estimated 10,500 in 2016.
As of 2019, the estimated number of cases is now 16,000. Published data from UNAIDS also show that there are an estimated 97,000 adults and children that are living with HIV in the same year.
This is why spreading the word about HIV is highly essential. As more people become aware of this sexually transmitted infection, more individuals will be engaging in safe sex practices– ending the rising trend of HIV infections in the country.
Ulcer on the penis is a unique HIV symptom experienced only by men. After being exposed to HIV, sores, or ulcers may develop in different parts of the body. These are often painful and may sometimes appear on a man’s penis, anus, esophagus, and mouth. HIV may also result in hypogonadism, which causes testosterone levels to drop and lead to erectile dysfunction.
Women infected with HIV may experience changes in their periods. There may be lighter or heavier bleeding, missed periods, or bad PMS. It may be happening because of the virus’s effects on your immune system, which in turn affects your hormones. They may also feel pain in their lower belly due to infections in the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, collectively called pelvic inflammatory disease.
This stage occurs 2 to 4 weeks after infection. The infected person may develop flu-like signs, but this is not always the case. The person usually describes it as “the worst flu ever.” It may include the following symptoms:
Fever, Swollen Glands, Rash, Headache, Sore throat, Muscle pains, Joint aches
These are called Acute Retroviral Syndrome or Primary HIV infection. It’s the body’s response to the HIV infection. Anyone who thinks that they may have been infected is encouraged to seek medical care immediately. If you receive treatment at this early stage, it can have significant benefits on your overall health.
It is during this stage when the virus replicates large amounts of itself in your body. It uses CD4 cells to reproduce copies of itself then destroys them. Eventually, the number of your CD4 cells drop. Your body’s immune system response then is to bring the level of the virus to a viral set point, which is a stabilized level of infection in your body. Your CD4 cells start to increase again but may not be the same as your pre-infection level.
HIV levels in your bloodstream are very high during this stage, so it’s also when you are at a very high risk of transmitting the virus via sex or sharing of needles.
The Clinical Latency Stage is a period wherein the virus is in the person’s body but doesn’t produce symptoms, or if there are, it’s only mild ones. The virus still reproduces but does so at very low levels. People in this stage are still able to transmit the virus to others. For infected people who are not taking treatment, the latency stage may last an average of 10 years, but for some, the infection may progress faster.
It is the last stage and occurs when your immune system is already severely damaged. You’re more prone to opportunistic infections during this stage, and the level of your CD4 cells have already dropped below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood.
Opportunistic infections are infections that used to cause only minimal or almost no problems at all before the development of AIDS but become serious health risks to a person who has a weakened immune system.
For people who aren’t getting treatment, they can survive up to 3 years. According to Medical News Today, symptoms during this stage may include the following:
– Blurry vision
– Persistent or chronic diarrhea
– Dry cough
– Fever of over 37 °C lasting for weeks
– Night sweats
– Permanent fatigue
– Shortness of breath
– Swollen glands lasting for weeks
– Unintentional weight loss
– White spots on the tongue or mout
The spread of the virus from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding is called mother-to-child transmission of HIV, while the spread of the virus from one person to another is called HIV transmission. Contact with certain body fluids from an HIV infected person spreads the virus. HIV transmission only occurs when these body fluids are in contact with a mucous membrane or a tissue that’s damaged or if injected directly into the bloodstream by a needle or syringe. These body fluids include:
Taking antiretroviral treatment early on significantly reduces HIV in the body to an undetectable viral load, which in turn helps improve the HIV infected person’s life, reduce transmission risk, and increase life expectancy. Antiretroviral drugs have several subgroups, such as:
Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs)
Non-nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs)
HIV-positive people need to take their prescribed medications. If treatments are dismissed, your body will eventually go through the final stage (AIDS). Your immune system is severely weakened, increasing your risk of contracting opportunistic infections, such as the following:
– Candidiasis of the esophagus, lungs, bronchi, and trachea is a fungal infection that usually occurs in the nails and skin. For people with AIDS, it may cause severe problems in the esophagus and also in the lower respiratory tract.
– Invasive cervical cancer is a type of cancer that starts from the cervix and then spreads to other regions of the body.
– Coccidioidomycosis is commonly known as valley fever. It is caused by inhaling the fungus Coccidioides immitis.
– Cryptococcosis is caused by a fungus called Cryptococcus neoformans that infects any part of the body. It often enters the lungs and causes pneumonia or swelling of the brain.
– Cryptosporidiosis leading to severe abdominal cramps and watery diarrhea.
– Cytomegalovirus disease (CMV) can cause a wide range of diseases in the body. This includes gastroenteritis, pneumonia, a brain infection, and encephalitis.
– People with AIDS have concerns about CMV retinitis. It infects the retina at the back of the eye, causing permanent blindness. CMV retinitis is considered to be a medical emergency.
– HIV-related encephalopathy is an acute or chronic HIV infection. It can trigger a brain disorder. It is considered to be linked to post-infection inflammation in the brain. The exact cause of it is still unknown to medical experts.
– Herpes simplex (HSV) can infect the lungs or esophagus of people with late-stage HIV. It causes ulcers on the genitals and anus and cold sores around the mouth, and that does not go away. The sores are an indicator of AIDS.
– The fungus Histoplasma capsulatum causes Histoplasmosis in people with advanced HIV, it causes extremely severe, pneumonia-like symptoms. It can progress into disseminated histoplasmosis and can have effects on organs found outside of the respiratory system.
– The parasite Isospora Belli causes chronic intestinal isosporiasis. It can infect the body through consuming contaminated food and water. Through this contamination, it causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, fever, vomiting, headaches.
– Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) is caused by Kaposi’s sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV), also known as human herpesvirus 8(HHV-8). It causes a kind of cancer that leads to the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the body.
– Lymphoma is what people refer to as the cancer of the lymph nodes and lymphoid tissues. It has many different types. Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma have a strong association with HIV infection.
– The bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes tuberculosis (TB). It’s a disease that can transfer if a person with an active form of the bacteria coughs, speaks, or sneezes. It causes a severe lung infection, accompanied by fever, weight loss, and tiredness. It may also infect the lymph nodes, brain, bones, or kidneys.
– Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia (PJP) is caused by a fungus called Pneumocystis jirovecii. It may lead to dry cough, high fever, and breathlessness in people with severely weakened immune systems, including those with HIV.
– Recurrent pneumonia caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae is one of its most dangerous causes in people with a compromised immune system. Vaccines are already available for this type of bacteria. Every person who has HIV has to be vaccinated for Streptococcus pneumoniae.
– Progressive multifocal encephalopathy (PML) is caused by the John Cunningham (JC) virus. The virus attacks the brain, causing a dangerous condition called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) in people with weakened immune systems, possibly because of HIV or medications, such as those for multiple sclerosis (MS). PML may cause paralysis and cognitive difficulties. It can be life-threatening.
– Recurrent Salmonella septicemia is a kind of bacteria that enters the body by consuming contaminated food and water. It circulates the entire body, and attacks the immune system, leading to diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
– “Wasting syndrome” happens when a person loses 10% of their muscle mass and fats through weakness, diarrhea, or fever.
There are lifestyle changes you have to adhere to because of the increase in risks of long-term complications.
Taking your HIV medication is a must. Organize your lifestyle in a way that adheres to your treatment. If side effects are becoming too severe, talk to your healthcare provider. Regularly check-up with your healthcare provider to ensure that the treatment is working fine. They can change the combination of your drugs to something you are more comfortable with.
HIV medication can be expensive. But in the Philippines, the Department of Health offers free HIV treatment. They encourage the HIV infected population to “access and take advantage of these life-saving antiretroviral drugs in all of the DOH-designated HIV treatment facilities.”
Take the initiative in maintaining good health by exercising, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding harmful drugs and smoking. The stigma around HIV is still present, though not as severe as before thanks to the continuous awareness efforts by different organizations. You may feel excluded and persecuted. You must have a strong support system you can rely on.
Organizations such as LoveYourself created HIV care and support groups that are committed to helping you by sharing advice, friendship, and guidance. Joining these groups is vital to maintaining your mental health.
As you’ve reached the end of this guide, you’re probably still having questions lingering in your mind regarding HIV. With that, we’ve answered some of the frequently asked questions regarding this infection.
Yes, it’s still important to use condoms and dental dams even if you’re both HIV-positive. If you and your partner have two different strains of HIV, you may transmit these strains to each other. Now, it can lead to reinfection and complicate your treatment.
Now, if both of your medications can reduce the levels of the virus to the point that it’s untransmittable, then using condoms and dental may be necessary. Make sure to consult your healthcare provider regarding this.
Where can I Get Tested?
There are also institutions such as LoveYourself that exist primarily to guide you and prepare you with your HIV screening tests. They also provide counseling and HIV/AIDS education to spread awareness and stop the occurrence of an epidemic among youth and the affected part of the population.
They are open from Mondays to Sundays. They offer free-of-charge and confidential HIV tests in all of their testing locations. Here’s a list of LoveYourself HIV testing centers taken from their website.
LoveYourself Welcome (Espana / Blumentritt St., Manila, Near Welcome Rotonda)
Their office is open every day except Sundays and Mondays. They offer HIV tests free-of-charge. They have a friendly, warm, and non-discriminatory staff. They’re located at 858 Blumentritt Road corner Remedios Street, Sampaloc, Manila, near the intersection of Espana and Blumentritt, near Welcome Rotonda.
Phone: 0967 207 1976
Operating hours: Tuesdays to Saturdays
2 PM TO 11 PM (Cut-off* time: 10PM)
LoveYourself Anglo (Shaw Blvd., Mandaluyong City)
Their office is open every day except Mondays and Tuesdays. HIV test is free-of-charge. Friendly, warm, and non-discriminatory staff. They’re located at Unit 5, 3/F, Anglo Building, #715-A Shaw Boulevard, Mandaluyong City. (3-minute walk from Shaw MRT Station, just behind Star Mall EDSA). You can find them on the 3rd floor of a yellow building with Anglo Hardware on the ground floor.
Phone: 0915 172 3707 (they do not respond to texts, only calls)
Operating hours: Wednesdays to Saturdays 12 NN TO 7 PM
Sundays 9 AM TO 2 PM
Monday and Tuesday CLOSED
LoveYourself Uni (Taft Ave., Pasay City)
Their office is open every day except Mondays and Tuesdays. Friendly, warm, and non-discriminatory staff. They offer HIV test for free. You can find their office at 2028 Taft Avenue Extension, Pasay City. The center is conveniently situated close to LRT-1 Gil Puyat or Buendia station on the northbound lane of Taft Avenue. On the ground floor of the building is a building.
Phone: (02) 256-9384
Operating Hours: Wednesdays to Saturdays 12 NN TO 7 PM
Sundays 9 AM TO 2 PM
Monday and Tuesday CLOSED
Victoria By LoveYourself (Park Avenue, Manila)
Formerly known as the Victoria Health and Wellness Center, Victoria by LoveYourself (VLY), is the first community center that offers services specializing in the needs of transgender (TG) persons. Other than the usual HIV screening and counseling services, the community center also offers hormone management, and pre-GAS (gender-affirming surgery) assessment and counseling. If you’re interested, you can go and inquire more about these services by going through the contact details below.
When LoveYourself Uni and LoveYourself Anglo are closed, you can go to the community center. They provide HIV screening and counseling services to everyone from Saturdays to Wednesdays (12nn to 7 PM).
They’re open five days a week for hormone replacement therapy consultations. Please take note that they are per appointment only from Saturday to Wednesday. You can find VLY at 2/F Torres Bldg., 2442 Park Avenue, Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines 1302. The center is along Libertad, Pasay.
Free Doctor’s Consultation* for Hormone
Replacement Therapy (HRT) for TGs
Saturday to Wednesday
BY APPOINTMENT ONLY (5–7 PM time slots)
*To schedule your free HRT consult, you are
required to fill out a Client Signup Form
HIV Screening and Counselling Services for all
Saturday to Wednesday
12 NN TO 7 PM
Thursday and Friday
Lily By LoveYourself (San Martin De Porres, Paranaque)
Lily is a joint effort by LoveYourself and another Community-based organization, DIOSSA. The center offers their HIV tests free-of-charge. More than this, they pride themselves on having a friendly, warm, and non-discriminatory staff. They also provide HIV screening and counseling services to everyone six days a week from Tuesday to Sunday (12nn to 9 pm). You can access Lily by LoveYourself x DIOSSA at 5th Floor, Pineda Building, #98 Manalac Ave., Sitio De Asis, San Martin de Porres, Paranaque City.
Phone: 0977-7969227 0928-6896422
Tuesday to Sunday 12 NN TO 9 pm
Be part of something meaningful by joining LoveYourself in their mission to spread HIV awareness.
Although most of their activities are in Manila, LoveYourself accepts volunteers from all over the country. Anyone of legal age, whatever gender, sexuality, race, creed, education, or work background you have, you’re welcome to join. You can undergo training and orientation to be a better member of the LoveYourself community and to serve the HIV advocacy better. Simply visit their website to find out how you can join. You’ll be required to fill up a signup form and will be contacted soon.
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