Part of what makes HIV so potentially devastating is the lack of early warning signs. Many people who are infected with HIV don’t realize it, and they can unwittingly put their sexual partners at risk because of it. The CDC estimates that about 1 in every 8 people infected with HIV don’t realize they have the virus. This is better than just a few years ago, when that figure was 1 in 6, but there’s still a long way to go.
So why does HIV go unnoticed so often?
In large part, because the initial symptoms are mild or nonexistent. Some people may experience minor flu-like symptoms within the first few weeks of infection. These symptoms include headache, diarrhea, swollen glands or a chronic cough – all of which can be easily mistaken for other illnesses. Other symptoms, like memory loss, loss of appetite, and poor energy levels, are often overlooked in aging populations in particular.
For other people, symptoms don’t appear for years. The HIV virus can incubate in the body for a decade or more before making its presence known. In fact, it’s possible not to realize that anything is wrong at all until the disease advances and becomes harder to manage.
This is why routine HIV testing is so important. A single un-diagnosed HIV+ individual can potentially put many, many people at risk within a community – think of all the people you may sleep with in a 10 year period, and all of the people that they sleep with, and so on!
Fortunately, HIV testing is fast (about 30 minutes), completely confidential, and free at UNM Truman Health Services – so there’s no reason to stay in the dark about your HIV status. Take this opportunity to get some peace of mind about your status and do your part to prevent the spread of HIV in our community.