By Dr Muhd Taufiq, Dr Tan & Partners clinic (DTAP Clinic)

1. What is HIV and how is it usually transmitted?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). It cannot be transmitted through kissing. The most common way a person gets infected with HIV is to engage in high-risk sexual activity with a person who is already infected with HIV. This includes, but is not limited to, penetration of the anus or vagina without a condom.

The risk of contracting HIV can be higher if there is an open wound or an ulcer on the genitals or if there is blood present during the sexual contact. HIV can also be transmitted through the sharing of needles (especially in drug use) with someone who is infected with HIV.

2. What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

HIV is a virus that attacks a type of white blood cell called a CD4 cell in the body’s immune system.

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It reduces the body’s ability to fight infection and illness. The body can fight off many viruses, but some of them can never be completely removed once they are present. HIV is one of them.

AIDS is a syndrome, or range of symptoms, that may develop in time in a person with HIV who does not receive treatment. A person can have HIV without developing AIDS, but it is not possible to have AIDS without first having HIV.

3. There is no cure for HIV, but anti-retroviral therapy can improve the immune system and suppress the virus in a patient’s system to undetectable levels. Please elaborate on this therapy?

The main goal of Antiretroviral therapy ART is to reduce a person’s viral load to an undetectable level. An undetectable viral load means that the level of HIV in the blood is too low to be detected by a viral load test. People with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partner through sex. A patient who is compliant on ART and is undetectable are able to enjoy a regular life.

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4. HIV may be prevented if one takes Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) within 72 hours of being in contact with the virus. What are the chances of success with PEP and are such treatments available here? 

The chances of success of PEP taken within 72 hours is more than 90%. The treatment is available at specialised clinics. DTAP clinic is one of the clinics that offer HIV PEP. The PEP involves taking two different types of medication for a duration of one month.

5. What should one do if they suspect they have been exposed to HIV?

If they suspect exposure to HIV, they should see a doctor that is able to provide HIV PEP and screening services. The doctor then will advise whether they are suitable for PEP.

There are clinics that provide anonymous HIV testing like DTAP clinic @ Robertson, where patients do not need to provide their details, NRIC or passport, addresses and contact numbers.