Here are some questions our readers have asked about HIV and AIDS. If you have a question you would like to see answered in a future edition of this on-going FAQ, please email it to our editor, Lance Porter, at LPorter@PHPubs.com.
Q: What is the difference between HIV-1 and HIV-2?
A: There are two different types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-2 is mostly found in West Africa. In the United States and most of the rest of the world, when we talk about “HIV,” we’re talking about “HIV-1.” There have only been a few dozen cases of HIV-2 reported in the U.S., mostly among patients who moved here from West Africa.
Both HIV-1 and HIV-2 have the same modes of transmission. They are both associated with similar opportunistic infections and AIDS. HIV-2 immunodeficiency seems to develop more slowly and be less severe than HIV-1. People with HIV-2 also seem to be less infectious early in the course of the disease.
Q: Is there such a thing as “HIV immunity”?
A: Yes, although it is rare. An estimated one percent of people of Northern European descent are virtually immune to HIV, with Swedes being the most likely to be protected.
People with the highest level of HIV immunity have a pair of mutated genes – one in each chromosome – that prevent their immune cells from developing the CCR5 receptor. HIV enters your cells through the CCR5 receptor. If the receptor isn’t there, HIV can’t get in.
To be immune from HIV, you must inherit this genetic mutation from both parents. If you inherit it from just one, you’ll have some degree of resistance to HIV, but you won’t be immune. Scientists estimate that 10 to 15 percent of Northern Europeans have this lesser degree of protection.
Q: Why are you not supposed to use Vaseline with a condom?
A: Most condoms are made of latex. Viruses, including HIV, cannot pass through latex. Oil-based lubricants like Vaseline, salad oil and hand lotion can damage a latex condom, causing tears and leaks that let HIV through. Use a water-based lubricant like K-Y Jelly instead.
Make sure the condom you use is fresh – check the expiration date. Open the package carefully. Never re-use a condom, and don’t use one that has been subjected to extreme temperatures.
Q: Can HIV be transmitted by oral sex?
A: Yes, but the risk is very low. There have been very few documented cases of transmission of HIV solely through oral sex.
Saliva (spit) is not one of the bodily fluids that transmits HIV. HIV is transmitted by blood, semen, and vaginal fluid. So the risk of transmission during oral sex is greater if you or your partner have open cuts or sores – the sores associated with syphilis or herpes, for example – in the mouth or on your genitals.
Unlike HIV, some other sexually transmitted diseases are easily transmitted by oral sex. It’s always best to protect yourself by using a condom.
Q: How does HIV testing work?
A: For a standard HIV test, blood or an oral fluid sample is sent to a laboratory. You typically call in about a week to get the results. There is also a rapid test available at some sites. This provides results in about 20 minutes. If the rapid HIV test is positive, it needs to be confirmed by a standard test. HIV tests don’t actually look for the disease itself. Instead, it detects antibodies that your body makes in response to the HIV. HIV antibody tests are more than 99 percent accurate. Most people infected with HIV develop enough antibodies to test positive within a month of the time they are infected. Virtually all cases of HIV can be detected by the test within three months of infection. The period of time after you are infected but before you develop enough antibodies to test positive is called the “window.” During the window period you can pass HIV on to someone else. In fact, you may have very high levels of the virus and be highly infectious.
Q: Is there any connection between HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases?
A: Yes, there definitely is. If you are HIV-positive and you also have another sexually transmitted disease (STD), you are three to five times more likely to infect someone than if you do not. An STD also makes an HIV-negative person more vulnerable to HIV infection. If the STD causes breaks in the skin or sores, those become a pathway for HIV to enter your body. Even if the STD does not cause breaks in the skin, the infection can trigger an immune response in the genital area that makes HIV transmission more likely.
Q: Can HIV survive outside the body?
A: Yes, but not for very long. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted test using blood with a very high concentration of HIV. The amount of infectious virus declined rapidly as the blood sample dried. Basically, by the time the blood was completely dry, the HIV was dead.
Q: My partner and I are both HIV-positive. Can we have unprotected sex?
A: If you do, you run the risk of what is called “superinfection.” That’s when you become infected with a second strain of HIV which may be harder to control or resistant to different medications than the one you have now. And, of course, you put your partner at risk for superinfection, too.
Superinfection is not very common, but it does happen. Why risk it? And, of course, by having unprotected sex you are at risk of catching other sexually transmitted diseases.
Q: Can you get HIV from a tattoo?
A: Not in a legitimate tattoo parlor that follows standard hygiene procedures. If safety practices are not followed, then theoretic ally you could get HIV from a tattoo needle-stick. But there is no record of it ever happening.
Q: I’m pregnant. Should I get an HIV test?
A: Yes, absolutely. If it turns out that you are HIV-positive, there are steps your doctor can take to reduce the chances that you pass the virus along to your baby.
Do you have a question you would like to see answered in a future issue of HIV Positive! magazine? Please email it to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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