June 2, 2021 | Written By: Nurul Afiqah
Accepting the fact that you are a suspected HIV/AIDS patient, is certainly difficult. The spread of HIV is through body fluids and usually spreads due to unprotected sex or an accidental needle stick. If you have experienced one of these, you may have a high risk of getting infected. Early steps must be taken to lower your chances of getting HIV/AIDS infections or complications. What should you do if you have been exposed to HIV/AIDS infections? This article will guide you.
What Must You Do If You Have Been Exposed to HIV
Take an HIV Test
Among the ways to know your status is to take an HIV screening test. HIV is usually diagnosed with a serological or blood test in detecting the presence of antibodies to the virus. This test can be done voluntarily, anonymously or confidential. You can undergo the test at any Health Clinic run by the State Health Department.
How quickly each HIV test detects an infection varies. How long does HIV infection last? The period between when you get the virus and when it can be detected is called the "window period" or incubation period. In general, it can take about 3 to 12 weeks for your body to form enough antibodies to detect HIV infection. Therefore, it can take a few days up to a few weeks to get the HIV test result. However, rapid tests will be used for HIV screening where the test results are ready in just 30 minutes. If the test results are reactive, then your blood sample will be taken and sent to the HIV Screening Center in the hospital laboratory for a confirmation test.
Other than blood tests, a thorough examination including an initial assessment of a complete history of sexual intercourse and medications is required. You do not have to worry because the questions asked are open-ended, non-judgemental and non-stigmatise. A complete physical examination must also be performed to specifically look for signs that may indicate the stage of the disease.
Your consent is required before the inspection. You will also be given pre-test counselling. This pre-test counselling will be provided by the Medical Officer or Assistant Medical Officer. In addition, regular post-test counselling will be provided regardless of whether the test result is positive or negative.
# HIV Test Results
If the rapid test result is non-reactive or NEGATIVE, you will be given an explanation of the incubation period and you are advised to undergo the screening test again after 6 months prior to the date of the screening test. You will be given the option of either making a follow-up appointment or going directly to the Health Clinic. The test can show a negative result even if you have been infected with HIV. This may happen if you are still in the incubation period, which is when HIV antibodies have not been produced yet.
Meanwhile, if the rapid test result is reactive or POSITIVE, then you will be given a description and advice to perform a confirmation test. Then, you will be referred to any Health Clinic that provides HIV treatment where you can choose any location that is closer to your home. Other than medication, counselling services are also offered. During post-test counselling, a discussion on partner notification will be conducted by the counsellor. Your privacy will be maintained at all times, however, if there is a possibility that your partner is at risk of being infected, your counsellor will discuss the need for you to notify your partner, thus, further counselling will be provided. This is to ensure that your partner can also undergo the HIV screening test while preventing the transmission and complications of HIV/AIDS as the infection is detected promptly.
The Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH) offers HIV drugs, namely highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) which is a combination of at least 3 types of anti-HIV drugs that can reduce the amount of HIV in the body as well as the severity of HIV/AIDS. This treatment is provided at selected health clinics and most of the MOH hospitals.
Furthermore, not all HIV patients require anti-HIV treatment at an early stage. The decision to start treatment depends on the doctor's assessment based on your condition and the number of CD4 T cells in your body.
The drug treatment given for preventive purposes to people suspected of having HIV infection is a PEP. What is PEP? PEP stands for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis which is an antiretroviral drug (ART) that is ideally taken within 2 hours or not later than 72 hours (three days) after suspected exposure to HIV. It should be taken as soon as possible. The sooner PEP is taken, the more likely it is to stop HIV infection.
In Malaysia, women who become infected with HIV during pregnancy are entitled to free HIV or antiretroviral (ARV) prophylaxis or if necessary, HAART. The purpose of therapy given to pregnant women is to treat the mother and reduce the possibility of virus transmission to the fetus or newborn. Some HIV medications may not be safe for pregnant women. Be sure to tell your doctor or health care professional if you have the potential to become pregnant so that appropriate medication can be given to you.
In addition, your doctor will tell you whether taking PEP is appropriate for your condition or not. Please see a doctor immediately if you answered "Yes" to one of the following questions:
Are you a victim of rape or sexual harassment?
Have you ever had unprotected sex through the vagina, anus or oral (mouth) with someone who is HIV positive or someone whose HIV status is unknown? (Unprotected sexual intercourse or the use of a torn condom) However, the risk of sexual transmission from HIV patients who have undetectable viral load is negligible. To be sure, please talk to your doctor regarding this matter.
Do you share needles (for the use of medications, hormones or tattoos) or other drug injection equipment with someone you know who has HIV positive status or is unsure?
# Immediate Action On Occupational Exposure
Although PEP has not been proven to work for all high-risk exposures, scientists have shown that it can stop HIV infection at a rate of 80% or 8 out of every 10 cases reported, especially for workplace accidents such as penetration by needles among nurses. Thus, PEP is also believed to be helpful for other types of HIV exposure. PEP which is a preventive treatment after being exposed to HIV infection is a combination of pills and should be taken for 1 month. After completing PEP treatment, you will need to undergo an HIV test again. Here is what you should do if you are exposed to HIV at work.
Percutaneous injuries - injuries to the surface of the skin
Blood should be expressed out and cleaned with a tissue. Wash immediately with soap and water. If necessary, the injured skin area should be disinfected and dressed
Injury to the mucosa can involve things like spillage into the eyes. Immediately wash and rinse with water.
The injured health workers should report to the location supervisor immediately after the injury for documentation.
Important Things After Getting PEP
Be sure to protect yourself and others from HIV infection during or after you finish using PEP.
You are advised not to have sex or use a condom every time you have sex.
Do not take drugs or share syringes.
If you are a mother, you are advised not to breastfeed your child.
How To Identify Symptoms Of HIV Infection After An Exposure?
The symptoms of HIV infection appear differently for each person. About two-thirds of people will experience symptoms such as fever, fatigue, muscle aches, colds and sore throats starting 2 to 4 weeks after they become infected. However, since the symptoms that appear are mild, many people do not notice any symptoms at all or assume normal despite it being a sign that there is a virus in their body. This shows how important it is for you to do an HIV screening test if you have suspected that you may be infected with the virus.
Protect Yourself and Others
While waiting for your status or if you have found out that you are HIV positive, take precautions to protect others.
Be honest with your partner. Tell them about your HIV status so they can also undergo screening tests as well as the necessary treatment. Based on the experience of PLHIV (People Living with HIV) or reported HIV patients, the quality of life of PLHIV can be improved if the diagnosis is made promptly. The story of PLHIV serves as a guide and a lesson so that quick action needs to be taken to detect the infection.
Do not donate blood unless you have been confirmed HIV negative by a doctor or medical officer
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