How Long Can You Live with HIV Without Knowing?

Harman Kaur
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Dr. Kaushal

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How Long Can You Live with HIV Without Knowing

HIV is a virus that impacts the immune system by targeting CD4 T cells, a type of white blood cell.

HIV can quietly advance in the body, often going undetected for a long time.

The duration one can live with HIV without knowing varies widely and depends on several factors, including individual health, lifestyle, and access to healthcare. 

This silent progression raises critical questions about the virus’s asymptomatic phase and its implications on individual well-being and public health. 

In this exploration, we will understand how long can you live with HIV without knowing. 

Asymptomatic phase of HIV

The second stage of HIV/AIDS is known as asymptomatic HIV infection. 

In this phase, individuals do not exhibit any symptoms of HIV infection. This stage is alternatively referred to as chronic HIV infection or clinical latency.

Throughout asymptomatic HIV infection, the virus continues to replicate within the body, gradually weakening the immune system. 

Remarkably, despite this ongoing viral activity, affected individuals do not experience any noticeable symptoms. 

The duration of this stage is contingent upon the rate at which the HIV replicates and the influence of the person’s genetic makeup on how the body manages the virus.

For some individuals, symptoms and a decline in immune function may manifest within a few years following the initial infection. 

On the other hand, some people can remain asymptomatic for ten years or even longer.

Warning:
If you have engaged in unsafe sexual behavior, shared needles, or undertaken any activities that could potentially expose you to HIV, it is recommended that you undergo testing as soon as possible.

Life expectancy of people with HIV

hivSource: ktsimage_from_GettyImages
HIV blood sample

Untreated HIV can significantly impact your life expectancy. 

According to a 2017 study, an individual diagnosed with HIV at the age of 20 in a high-income country can anticipate an additional 43.3 years of life with proper treatment.

Fortunately, ongoing advancements in treatments have transformed an HIV diagnosis from a once-dreaded death sentence to a manageable condition. 

With the appropriate treatment, individuals with HIV can lead long and fulfilling lives.

However, if an HIV infection advances to AIDS, life expectancy decreases substantially, typically to just a few years.

Recommended Article
If you want to know about the mortality rate of HIV, then read the article Understanding Mortality: Can You Die from HIV?

Prevention of HIV from progression

To prevent the progression of HIV, the most impactful approach is to initiate promptly and consistently follow antiretroviral medication as prescribed by a healthcare professional.

Early intervention enhances the individual’s prognosis and reduces the likelihood of the virus being transmitted to others.

Antiretroviral therapy

Antiretroviral therapy plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy immune system and preventing the transmission of the virus, benefiting individuals at any stage of HIV.

Key benefits of antiretroviral therapy include:

  • Suppression of viral activity
  • Enhancement of the person’s immunity and life expectancy
  • Reduction in the likelihood of virus transmission

Adherence to antiretroviral therapy leads to a significant decrease in HIV levels in the blood, often reaching undetectable levels within six months for most individuals using antiretroviral drugs. 

Fact:
Once the viral load becomes undetectable, the risk of transmitting HIV to others is virtually eliminated.

PEP

In the event of recent exposure to HIV, individuals have the option of using PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) to prevent the virus from establishing itself. 

PEP serves as an emergency measure.

It is most efficacious when taken promptly after suspected exposure to HIV and within 72 hours of the exposure event. 

By adhering to this timeframe, PEP can effectively prevent the onset of HIV.

Lifestyle factors

smoking is a lifestyle factor that can cause diseaseSource: Kubra_Cavus_from_Getty_Images
Avoid smoking

Several lifestyle factors can influence the progression of HIV, and individuals can adopt strategies to enhance their immune system, including:

  • Avoiding infections: Take preventive measures against infections and illnesses, such as receiving recommended vaccinations from a healthcare professional
  • Reducing stress: Stress can weaken the immune system, increasing the susceptibility to other illnesses and opportunistic infections
  • Using condoms during sexual intercourse: Employing condoms not only protects individuals with HIV from other sexually transmitted infections but also helps prevent further weakening of the immune system
  • Exercising regularly: Regular physical activity offers various benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease, increased energy, improved circulation and lung capacity, better sleep, and lower stress levels
  • Eating a balanced diet: Maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet with limited alcohol intake contributes to a strengthened immune system, helping ward off infections and ensuring the proper functioning of HIV treatment
  • Quitting smoking: Individuals with HIV who smoke are more prone to developing infections, such as Candidiasis and Pneumonia, as well as illnesses like certain cancers, heart disease, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Cessation of smoking is advisable to mitigate these risks

Conclusion

The multifaceted nature of HIV poses ongoing challenges to global health, necessitating a comprehensive understanding of its silent progression and potential impact on individuals and public health. 

The exploration of HIV’s asymptomatic phase underscores the importance of proactive testing based on behaviors rather than relying solely on symptoms. 

Advances in antiretroviral therapy have transformed HIV from a once-dreaded prognosis to a manageable condition, emphasizing the significance of early intervention. 

Combined with lifestyle strategies, such as practicing safe behaviors and maintaining overall well-being, individuals can navigate the complexities of living with HIV and contribute to effective prevention.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long a HIV patient can live?

Research indicates that an individual living with HIV can have a comparable life expectancy to someone who is HIV-negative. It is possible if given timely diagnosis, access to quality medical care, and adherence to HIV treatment.

Can you live with HIV and not know?

After HIV infection, the majority of individuals undergo a brief flu-like illness within 2 to 6 weeks, lasting one to two weeks. Following the resolution of these initial symptoms, HIV may remain asymptomatic for many years, during which time the virus persists in causing damage to the immune system. 

How do you feel when you have HIV?

Individuals with HIV might experience symptoms at the initial stages of infection, such as swollen glands, fever, headaches, or muscle soreness. Alternatively, some individuals may remain asymptomatic for a period of up to 10 years.

Citations:
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