HIV/AIDS and intimate relationships
Heather Little-White, PhD, Contributor
You have been dating steadily for 15 months and you realise that your partner's physical condition is changing. There are signs of fatigue, a persistent dry cough and weight loss and obviously you are concerned. You encourage your partner to visit the doctor but he/she is reluctant. The condition exacerbates and your partner is resisting all suggestions to visit the doctor.
You are frustrated and as you seek counsel, you are advised to go the doctor together for a general check-up. Reluctantly, your partner agrees and your doctor orders routine bloodwork for both of you. Your worst fears are confirmed that your partner is HIV positive. Luckily, your results are negative. What follows with you and your partner is denial, blaming and some rebellion at taking prescribed strategies for dealing with the infection.
This scenario could happen in your relationship with your partner being HIV-positive, possibly coming to the relationship with the infection or contracting it during the course of the relationship if there was infidelity. You have to be aware of how the disease is contracted and you should also be able to identify symptoms of HIV/AIDS although in some infected persons, the T-cells decline and opportunistic infections that signal AIDS develop soon after initial infection with HIV. There is the possibility that some people with HIV may not show any symptoms for 10-12 years.
Several questions run through your mind:
Do you stay or leave?
How much are you in love with your partner to decide to stay, despite what others may say?
What about unprotected sex if pregnancy is desired?
What are the implications for having a baby?
What precautions can you take if you decide to stay together?
Does HIV-positive status mean a permanent death sentence for your partner?
Are you willing to learn more about HIV/AIDS to help your partner, even if you are not intimately involved?
What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS. A member of a group of viruses called retroviruses, HIV infects human cells and uses the energy and nutrients provided by those cells to grow and reproduce. AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is a disease which breaks down the body's immune system, making it unable to fight off certain infections, known as 'opportunistic infections,' and other illnesses that take advantage of a weakened immune system (www.thebody.com).
Symptoms of HIV
One of the first steps is to be able to identify the symptoms of HIV/AIDS. The symptoms of HIV infection include:
Rapid weight loss
Recurring fever or profuse sweating at nights
Profound and unexplained fatigue
Swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin or neck
Diarrhoea that lasts for more than a week
White spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth or in the throat
Red, brown, pink or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose or eyelids
Memory loss, depression and other neurological disorders
Symptoms of AIDS
As the infection progresses, it will develop into AIDS with symptoms such as:
A simple boil or wart
A thick, white coating (thrush) infecting the mouth
Shingles (a painful skin rash)
High temperatures and excessive sweating
Loss in body weight
Having HIV or AIDS does not mean that people cannot engage in sex. What is important is that couples must practise safer sex at all times to slow the HIV epidemic, preventing those who are uninfected from becoming infected. If you are HIV-positive, you need to practise safer sex by using latex condoms every time you have sex to prevent infection, reinfection and to stay healthy. In addition to preventing HIV reinfection, condom use is also important in preventing the transmission of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia. Some of these STIs can actually increase the risk of HIV infection and complicate the treatment of HIV.
Critically, sexual contact between two HIV-infected persons also requires the use of a condom. There are different strains of HIV which can be passed between two HIV-positive individuals. This is HIV reinfection, which makes treatment of the infection even more difficult.
Treatments for HIV/AIDS
While there is no cure for AIDS, today HIV patients take a combination of a number of drugs to treat HIV infection and AIDS. They usually take several drugs in combination in a regimen known as highly active antiretroviral therapy. When successful, combination or cocktail therapy can reduce the level of HIV in the bloodstream, even undetectable levels, and sometimes enable the body's CD4 immune cells to rebound to normal levels, especially if the infection is caught early. Some of these drugs are designed to treat the opportunistic infections and illnesses that affect people with HIV/AIDS. In addition, several types of drugs seek to prevent HIV from reproducing and destroying the body's immune system (www.hivsymptomsonline.com)
Testing for HIV
Divorce is increasing because of financial issues and infidelity. Even in marriage, it may be necessary to get tested for HIV. If you want to get tested and your partner resists, you should only engage in safe sex. This should not prevent you from getting tested. The confidence level of your relationship increases when you both get tested together as it means that neither of you have anything to worry about. United States President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama proudly declared on public media that they were both tested for HIV/AIDS, so other married couples are encouraged to do the same (cbs2chicago.com/topstories).
HIV is a sexually transmitted infection so it is not surprising that having HIV has a direct impact on sex in a relationship. It is important to remember that being HIV-positive does not need to define who you are and it is still possible to have a rewarding sexual relationships with understanding partners.
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