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HIV / AIDS: The Differences & Myths Surrounding Them

HIV & AIDS in Singapore

There were 434 reported cases of HIV infection among Singapore residents in 2017. Of these cases, 94% were male and 6% were female, and 71% were between 20 to 49 years old. Among ethnic groups, 69% were Chinese, 19% were Malay, 6% were Indian and 6% from other ethnicities.
Sexual intercourse remains the main mode of HIV transmission, accounting for 96% of all cases. Heterosexual transmission accounted for 36%, while 51% were from homosexual transmission and 10% from bisexual transmission.  The number of new HIV cases among Singapore residents has remained consistent at about 450 per year since 2008. These are the latest statistics published by the Government Technology Agency of Singapore, which analyzes data provided by the Ministry of Health.
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What’s the difference between the two? 

HIV is a virus that causes weakening of the body’s immune system. It does so by destroying white blood cells that protect against bacteria, viruses and other harmful pathogens. Without these white blood cells, the body is will no longer be able to defend itself effectively against such infections.
AIDS refers to a spectrum of potentially life-threatening conditions that are caused by the virus, and is the end stage of HIV infection.


How does HIV progress to AIDS? 

HIV infection undergoes 3 stages. The first stage (Acute Stage) may present with flu-like symptoms, fever and a rash. The second stage (Latent Stage) may present with lymph node swelling, but most patients may not have any symptoms at all. The second stage can last anywhere from a few years to over 20 years. Thus, many HIV-infected patients, especially during this stage, may not even know that they have contracted HIV. Last but not least, the third stage is the presentation of AIDS. 
Without adequate treatment, up to 50% of HIV-infected patients develop AIDS within 10 years. Elevated levels of HIV affect the patient’s immune system and prevent it from functioning properly, eventually leading to AIDS. This may result in the individual being more prone to infections. Patients may develop symptoms such as prolonged fever, tiredness, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss and night sweats. Various virus-induced cancers, and opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis and recurrent pneumonia may occur, and these are the leading causes of death worldwide in patients with AIDS.


Who should test for HIV?

Everyone! It is recommended by the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that everyone between the ages of 13 to 64 should undergo HIV testing at least once as part of your routine healthcare. However, if your behaviour still puts you at risk even after getting tested, you should consider getting tested again at some point later on. People who engage in higher risk activity should get tested regularly.


Are you at risk?

If you answer “yes” to any of the questions below, you should get a HIV test if not done recently.

  • Are you a man who has had sex with another man?
  • Have you had sex – anal or vaginal – with a HIV-positive partner?
  • have you had more than one sex partner?
  • have you injected drugs and shared needles or works (for example, water or cotton) with others?
  • Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
  • Have you been diagnosed with, or sought treatment for, another sexually transmitted disease?
  • Have you been diagnosed with or treated hepatitis or tuberculosis?
  • Have you had sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions or someone whose sexual history you don’t know?

What are some of the HIV tests available?

There are four types of HIV tests available.
1. Nuclecic Acid Test (NAT) 
Also know as a HIV viral load test, this test looks for the actual virus in the blood. If the result is positive, the test will also show the amount of virus present in the blood. NAT is very expensive and thus not routinely used to screen individuals unless they recently had a high-risk or possible exposure and there are early symptoms of HIV infection. NAT is usually considered accurate during the early stages of infection. However, it is best to get an antibody or antigen/ antibody test at the same time to help in the interpretation of negative NAT result. Taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) may also reduce the accuracy of NAT.
NAT is able to detect HIV in the blood as early as 1 to 4 weeks (7 to 28 days) after infection.
2. Antigen/ Antibody Test
Also known as a fourth-generation or combination test, this test looks for both HIV antibodies and antigens. Antibodies are produced by the immune system when one is exposed to bacteria or viruses like HIV. Antigens are foreign substances that cause the immune system to activate. In early HIV infection, an antigen called p24 is produced even before antibodies develop.
The fourth generation test is able to detect HIV in the blood 2 to 6 weeks (13 to 42 days) after infection, and is most accurate after a 28-day window period.
3. Antibody test
This is also known as a third-generation test. As mentioned before, antibodies are produced by the immune system upon exposure to bacteria or viruses like HIV.
The antibody test is able to detect HIV in the blood approximately 97% of people within 3 to 12 weeks (21 to 84 days) of infection. If a positive HIV result is obtained from any type of antibody test, a follow up test is required to confirm the result.
4. HIV Pro-Viral DNA Test

The HIV Pro-Viral DNA test can be used in specific situations where there are challenges to getting an accurate HIV diagnosis with other available HIV tests including HIV Antibody tests (3rd Generation HIV test), HIV Antibody and Antigen tests (4th Generation HIV test) as well as HIV RNA PCR test.

It is especially useful in the following situations:

  1. Diagnosing HIV in newborns born to HIV +ve mothers
  2. Elite controllers with undetectable HIV viral load despite not being on anti-retroviral treatment
  3. Individual with sero-negative HIV infections i.e. People who get infected with HIV but do not develop anti-HIV antibodies : see FALSE NEGATIVE HIV ELISA TEST

It can be used for situations where the diagnosis of HIV is challenging. It has a lower false positive rate compared to the HIV RNA PCR test when used for diagnosis and it can be done 10 days post exposure.


Can you share the 4 most common myths about HIV? 

1. HIV is a death sentence. 

This may have been the case several decades ago, where without prompt and adequate HIV treatment, the infection progresses and causes the immune system to weaken, leading to AIDS. However, thanks to advances in modern medicine, most HIV-infected patients today are still able to lead healthy, productive lives and may never develop AIDS.

2. HIV can spread by kissing, sharing of food or close contact. 

It is extremely unlikely to contract HIV via these methods as HIV is not spread by saliva. However, if the person you are in contact with has mouth sores/ulcers, bleeding gums or open wounds then there is a possible risk. HIV is spread by 3 main routes: sexual contact, significant exposure to infected body fluids such as semen, blood, vaginal secretions or breast milk, and lastly, mother-to-child transmission. 

3. HIV can spread through mosquito bites. 

This is completely untrue as the virus cannot survive and replicate within the mosquito’s body.

4. There is no need to use a condom during sexual contact if both partners already have HIV. 

Different strains of HIV exist. If two HIV-infected partners are carrying different strains of HIV, having unprotected sexual intercourse may result in the exchange of these strains, leading to re-infection. Treatment in this situation becomes more difficult as the new HIV strain may be more resistant to the current treatment, or cause the current treatment to become ineffective.


What are the 4 things (facts) we should all know about HIV that we probably don’t know already?

  1. Under the Infectious Diseases Act, it is an offence for people who know that they are infected with HIV or AIDS in Singapore to not inform their sexual partners of their HIV status before engaging in sexual intercourse.
  2. For those who are worried but too afraid to undergo HIV screening, there are 10 clinics in Singapore that offer Anonymous HIV Testing (AHT). AHT is made available so as to encourage more individuals who suspect that they are at risk to go for early HIV screening. There is no requirement to provide any form of personal particulars, even if the test comes back positive.
  3. Persons who plan to engage in high-risk sexual behaviour can reduce their risk of HIV infection by taking Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). This is an oral medication that, when taken correctly, can reduce the risk of HIV transmission through sex by over 90%. Persons who did not take PrEP prior to engaging in high-risk sexual behaviour are eligible for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). This is a one month course of oral medications that must be started within 72 hours of the sexual exposure, the earlier the better.
  4. The current tagline in HIV is Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U). In recent years, there is overwhelming clinical evidence proving that people living with HIV who achieve and maintain an undetectable HIV viral load by adhering to their treatment cannot sexually transmit the virus to uninfected partners. Several large studies had been conducted over a course of 10 years between 2007 to 2016, involving thousands of heterosexual and homosexual couples. In these studies, there was not a single case of HIV transmission from a virally suppressed person to their uninfected partner. This is life changing for people living with HIV. In addition to being able to choose to have sex without a condom, this news allows them to approach existing or new relationships with a sense of liberation. 

Speak to our doctors for professional advice or if you wish to find out more information on HIV and AIDS.
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World AIDS Day 2019 Press Statement

World AIDS Day is a day to remember all those who have lost their lives to the illness. At the end of 2018, it is estimated that 32 million lives were lost worldwide to the disease. WHO had previously set the 90-90-90 target for countries in the world to achieve by 2020, 90% of those living with HIV will know their status, 90% of those who are positive are on ART treatment and 90% of those who are on treatment have undetectable levels of the virus. Let us take stock of what we have been able to achieve thus far.


Since then Singapore has risen to the challenge to achieve those goals.
 Singapore has done well with 2 of the goals – 89% of those who are positive are on ART treatment and 94% of those who are on treatment achieved undetectable viral loads. However, much has to be done to improve on getting those living with HIV to know their status as only about 72% are aware they are positive for HIV.
Thus we need to encourage more people who are at risk of HIV infection to get tested. At Dr Tan and Partners we have been strong advocates of screening of HIV and STIs for at risk persons and provide a non-judgmental and LGBT-friendly environment to discuss your concerns. This is to help to protect their families and their loved ones. It is not uncommon for people that I see in my practice to tell me one of the reasons why they are reluctant to get tested is because they are afraid of what will happen if their families or their loved ones find out.
The other common concern is that they will lose their jobs. Finally there are still many misconceptions about how HIV is transmitted. I have patients who are concerned that because they share food with their families they can transmit HIV to their family which is of course not true. HIV is NOT transmitted via casual contact like sharing of food and drinks or shaking hands.


Of note in Singapore as of 2018, of all those who were tested positive more LGBTs are stepping up to get voluntary testing for HIV (20%) compared to heterosexuals (9%). Also importantly, in all newly diagnosed HIV persons in Singapore both homosexuals (42%) and heterosexuals (43%) contribute equally to number of cases. What this shows is that contrary to what some believe, HIV is NOT a homosexual disease but it is a disease that affects all sexual orientation.
Finally, there is strong evidence from large studies involving thousands of sero-discordant couples (that is one partner is HIV positive and the other partner is HIV negative) who have sexual acts between 2007-2016 showed that there was not a single case of HIV transmission to the HIV negative partner if the HIV positive treated partner has undetectable levels of HIV virus. This highlights the importance of treatment of HIV, that treatment of HIV can be successful in achieving undetectable levels of virus and that transmission of HIV is effectively blocked when levels of the virus is undetectable.


We are proud that our Doctors at DTAP have been actively involved in the fight against the HIV epidemic. Our Anonymous HIV Testing site at Robertson Walk has provided a safe space for thousands of people seeking confidential HIV testing since 2005. Our Doctors were the lead and co-lead authors of the Community Workforce section in the Blueprint to end HIV transmission and AIDS in Singapore by 2030. Our Doctors were also part of the Singapore HIV PrEP Taskforce and helped write the first ever local Singapore guidelines for the clinical management of HIV PrEP.
We will continue this fight until we see a world free of stigma, free of discrimination and hopefully free of HIV.


Dr. Julian Ng

Dr Julian Ng has 10 years of medical practice experience. He currently serves as the Chief Medical Officer of the DTAP Group of clinics in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. He is also a member of the Singapore Men’s Health Society. His special interests are in the field Andrology, especially sexual health. He is currently practising at Dr Tan and Partners (DTAP) clinic at Novena Medical Centre.

How Long Can HIV Survive Outside the Body?

There are many fears and misconceptions about HIV survivability and infection risk.
We often get asked some form of this question by people who have come into contact with potentially infected blood or bodily fluids from surfaces or other objects and who are worried about HIV infection risk.
Most importantly, there have been no validated cases of HIV transmission through casual touching of surfaces or objects (e.g. toilet seats, toothbrushes, towels) to date.
However, it is true that HIV has been shown to survive outside the human body for up to several weeks in certain environmental conditions.

How Long Can HIV Survive Outside the Body?

So what does the evidence say so far?

1) Temperatures

  • At > 60⁰C – HIV is killed by heat temperatures of > 60⁰C are sufficient to kill HIV.

HIV is NOT killed by cold – It is known that the survival time of HIV increases in colder temperatures.

  • At 27⁰C to 37⁰C, the HIV can survive for up to 7 days in syringes (fresh blood)
  • At room temperature, the HIV can survive in dried blood for 5 to 6 days.
  • At 4⁰C, HIV can survive up to 7 days in dried blood
  • At -70⁰C, HIV can survive indefinitely without any loss of viral activity – this is the temperature that HIV-infected blood is stored at in laboratory experiments for future testing.

2) pH Level

  • HIV can only survive in a narrow band of pH between 7 and 8

DID YOU KNOW:

  1. HIV has been found to survive for a few days in sewage in laboratory based experiments; however, it has not been detected in urine or stool samples in any real-life setting.
  2. HIV has been found to survive in organs and corpses for up to 2 weeks after death, especially in cooler temperatures.
  3. HIV has been found in low levels in breast milk, with infective transmission possible from mother to baby; however, no studies have been performed to determine how long it is infective once it is outside the body

Semen or vaginal fluids outside the body

There have been no studies on HIV survival in semen or vaginal fluids outside the body, but so far evidence indicates that it is only present at very low levels and is unlikely to pose a risk of infection from contaminated surfaces.

These studies have mainly looked at HIV survivability in laboratory based experiments, and have not taken into account the effect of environmental conditions such as wind, rain, and sun exposure. Further studies are needed to more clearly elucidate the risk of certain exposures.
Also, just because HIV can survive outside the body does not mean that it is necessarily infective. Even when live HIV virus comes into contact with broken skin or mucosa, it must still be present in an adequate dose to establish infection (the tissue culture infectious dose), and must then undergo a complex series of steps before it actually causes an HIV infection.

Survivability ≠ Infectivity

HIV transmission thus far has only been shown to occur through sexual intercourse, contaminated needles (including tattoos and body piercing), blood transfusions, and very isolated cases of dental procedures and eyesplash incidents with infected blood. There have been zero cases of infection from casual contact with a contaminated surface or object to date.

In a Nutshell

All in All, if you have touched some surface or fluid that you think may be contaminated with HIV, do not worry – you will not get infected.
However, it is still important to practice proper hygiene and infection control measures to reduce the risk of other infections as well.
If you believe you have had a potential high-risk exposure within the last 72 hours, you may consider Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) – this course of medication can greatly reduce the risk of HIV infection following an exposure. Please contact us for a consultation if you think you need PEP.

If you have any other questions or concerns, please visit our Doctor Moderated Online Forum on Sexual Health, HIV and STDs.

If you are interest to go for an Anonymous HIV Testing, please visit our Robertson Walk Branch.
We are Singapore MOH Approved Anonymous HIV Test site in Singapore.

Take Care!


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  2. What are the Causes of Abnormal Penile Discharge?
  3. HPV Infection & HPV Vaccination for Men who have sex with Men
  4. STD Risk for Receptive Unprotected Anal Sex in Men
  5. Low HIV Risk Doesn’t Mean No HIV Risk
  6. HIV PrEP for Travel – How You Need to Know
  7. An Overview on STD from an STD Doctor
  8. Everything You Need to Know about Herpes Simplex Virus
  9. How Do I Treat Oral Herpes (Cold Sores)
  10. Syphilis Symptoms – Painless Sore & Ulcers
  11. HIV Symptoms – What You Need to Know
  12. 10 Common HIV related Opportunistic Infections

HIV Window Period – Timelines for Accurate HIV Testing

When it comes to HIV testing, two of the most common questions we are asked online or in person are: “When can I test for HIV?” and “Are my results conclusive?”
There is a lot of confusing information out there, so this article will try to break down the timelines for accurate testing, and why this is the case.

These Questions Are Basically Asking – What is the HIV Window Period?

The HIV window period is the time between viral transmission to be able to get a conclusively accurate test result. This time period depends on the type of HIV testing performed – different tests have different window periods, with newer generation testing allowing for earlier and more accurate diagnosis of HIV than what was available in the past.

As testing facilities vary from country to country, it is important to recognize local health authority guidelines and speak to the doctor if you have any uncertainties on your test.
If you are within 10 days from a possible HIV exposure, you are still in an eclipse period. This is the period of time where no current testing can detect the virus. HIV Testing in this time period will have no diagnostic utility.

However, if you are within 3 days (72 hours) from a potential HIV infection, please see your doctor or contact us immediately for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).
HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) can reduce risk of HIV infection or prevent HIV infection.

WhatsApp or SMS service (24/7) : +65 8728 7272

Also Read: When to get HIV Test after HIV PEP

So, What Types of HIV Tests are Available and How Do They Work?

For diagnostic purposes, most countries and guidelines now recommend first-line testing with the 4th Generation Antigen/Antibody test (also known as the Combo or Duo test). Other available testing includes 3rd Generation Antibody-only testing, HIV RNA/DNA PCR viral load and the HIV Pro-Viral DNA Test.
These tests are sometimes available as ‘point-of-care’ rapid tests, or alternatively can be performed in a laboratory with techniques such as ELISA or CMIA (don’t worry too much about the technicalities here). To understand the differences and rationale for each of these tests, we have to first understand what each of them is looking for.

The Core Structure of HIV is Made Up of a Protein (p24 Antigen)!

HIV is a type of retrovirus, and much of its core structure is made up of a protein known as p24 antigen – this is the type of antigen we look for with 4th generation HIV testing.
The p24 antigen usually becomes detectable from 10-14 days post-exposure, reaching a peak at around 3-4 weeks, and dropping to lower levels after 5-6 weeks once HIV antibodies start forming.
HIV antibodies are proteins formed by your own body in response to the virus and usually start forming as early as 14-17 days post-exposure, with 99.9% of patients having a detectable antibody response by 3 months.

Anonymous HIV Testing is only available in our Robertson Walk Branch.

The HIV Pro-Viral DNA Test

The HIV Pro-Viral DNA test can be used in specific situations where there are challenges to getting an accurate HIV diagnosis with other available HIV tests including HIV Antibody tests (3rd Generation HIV test), HIV Antibody and Antigen tests (4th Generation HIV test) as well as HIV RNA PCR test.

It is especially useful in the following situations:

  1. Diagnosing HIV in newborns born to HIV +ve mothers
  2. Elite controllers with undetectable HIV viral load despite not being on anti-retroviral treatment
  3. Individual with sero-negative HIV infections i.e. People who get infected with HIV but do not develop anti-HIV antibodies : see FALSE NEGATIVE HIV ELISA TEST

It can be used for situations where the diagnosis of HIV is challenging, it has a lower false positive rate compared to the HIV RNA PCR test when used for diagnosis and it can be done 10 days post exposure. 

HIV PCR RNA Test – 12 days or more post-exposure

As the HIV RNA PCR test is more sensitive, the window period is shorter and it can be used 12 days after exposure, as compared to 28 days for conventional Antibody/Antigen Testing.

HIV is a retrovirus. Retroviruses are a type of RNA virus that invades cells, in this case a kind of immune cells known as CD4 cells by injecting its genome directly into it. RNA is slightly different and less chemical complicated than DNA, hence the virus also has a special enzyme known as Reverse Transcriptase that will encode the HIV RNA into HIV DNA which is then merged with the host cell’s genome. Hence, if we can detect the presence of HIV RNA in the blood, we can be certain that there is HIV infection even without symptoms.

This is achieved through a technology known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR). In PCR, an automated device will process the patient’s sample with various chemicals. The polymerase enzyme and reaction will multiple any HIV RNA material into easily readable genetic information.

4th Generation HIV Test – 28 days or more post-exposure

The 4th generation Antigen/Antibody test has been shown to be conclusive from 28 days or more post-exposure. Remember, this test also checks for HIV antibody, so it will remain accurate for HIV diagnosis even after the p24 antigen levels drop, including years after initial infection.

3rd Generation HIV Test – 3 months or more post-exposure

The 3rd generation Antibody-only test is accepted as conclusive from 3 months or more post-exposure. If testing is done within these respective window periods, there is a chance of a false negative result.
For extremely rare cases where people do not mount an appropriate HIV-antibody response (known as seronegative infections), the 4th generation test will still be able to detect the p24 antigen, which is why it is considered the most accurate first-line test for HIV diagnosis.

You may also have heard of a test called the Western Blot; this is just another type of HIV antibody test that is usually used for confirmation testing, once a preliminary test has shown a positive result. As HIV is a serious and life-changing diagnosis, it’s important we get it right – most diagnostic algorithms require two separate tests showing a positive result before we confirm it to the patient. As the HIV window period may differ with these separate tests, it is important that your doctor chooses the right tests for you.

The last test type we’ll be looking at is the HIV RNA/DNA PCR test, also known as Nucleic Acid Amplification Testing (NAAT). This test has revolutionized HIV screening, especially for people at high risk. This test directly measures the amount of virus in a person’s blood and can detect conclusively from as early as 12 days post-exposure. It is also used to monitor viral load in people with a known HIV infection. Although this test is able to pick up HIV infection at the earliest stage, it is not widely available due largely to costs and turnaround time in Singapore. There is a slightly higher risk of false positive results with the HIV RNA/DNA PCR test.

Here’s How HIV Window Period & HIV Test Accuracy Works: 

In Summary

In summary, here are the tests you can do at the appropriate time:
Day 1-3: Consider Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
Day 1-9: Eclipse period (no HIV testing available)
Day 10: HIV Proviral DNA Test
Day 12 onwards: HIV RNA/DNA PCR testing (may have false positives)
Day 14 onwards: 4th Generation Combo testing can start to pick up the infection (may have a false negative)
Day 28 onwards: 4th Generation Combo testing is deemed conclusive
Day 90 onwards: 3rd Generation Ab-only testing is deemed conclusive
At the end of the day, it is important to speak to your doctor and inform them accurately about any potential exposure risks, so they can decide on which test is appropriate. And remember, 4th Generation Combo testing is the first line test recommended by most guidelines today. Ask for this test if you have any doubts!

Do come to see us for any further advice on HIV testing, window periods, or other STD Testing, STD Screening & Treatment and sexual health-related matters.

We accept both walk-ins and appointment for all our clinics, please call us or email us at hello@dtapclinic.com.
Take Care!


Other Reads:

  1. Do I Have HIV Rash? Or Are They Other STD-Related Rashes?
  2. HIV Pro-Viral DNA Test
  3. HPV Infection & HPV Vaccination for Men who have sex with Men
  4. STD Risk for Receptive Unprotected Anal Sex in Men
  5. Low HIV Risk Doesn’t Mean No HIV Risk
  6. HIV PrEP for Travel – How You Need to Know
  7. An Overview on STD from an STD Doctor
  8. Everything You Need to Know about Herpes Simplex Virus
  9. How Do I Treat Oral Herpes (Cold Sores)
  10. Syphilis Symptoms – Painless Sore & Ulcers
  11. HIV Symptoms – What You Need to Know
  12. 10 Common HIV related Opportunistic Infections

Do I Have HIV Rash? Or Are They From Other STD Related Rashes?

Skin rashes and lesions are some of the most common signs and symptoms experienced in HIV infection. There is no single definitive HIV rash – individuals may have different types of rashes of varying severity, distribution, and appearance.
As there are many other conditions that can also cause skin rashes, including allergies, autoimmune conditions, and other infections, it is important to remember that there is no way to diagnose someone with HIV based solely on the presence of a rash. Conversely, there is also no way we can rule out HIV just because someone does not have a skin rash. The only way to know for sure is by doing an HIV test at the appropriate time.

Acute HIV Seroconversion HIV Rash

In the primary stage of HIV infection, viral replication progresses quickly and the viral load (VL) will be very high. Your body’s immune system will detect the virus and start producing HIV antibodies to try and fight off the virus – this process is called seroconversion. It is this activity of the immune system which can manifest in the typical symptoms of acute HIV infection, also known as Acute Retroviral Syndrome (ARS) – with fever, swollen lymph nodes, and rashes being the most common symptoms.
The seroconversion HIV rash usually develops around 2-6 weeks from exposure. It will appear as reddish macules (flat lesions) and papules (small swollen bumps) spread over a generalized region, typically over the chest, back, and abdomen, sometimes extending to the arms and legs as well. It can be very itchy for some people, but not always. Symptoms of itch can be reduced by antihistamines and topical creams.
These rashes may last a few weeks or months, but will eventually resolve by themselves, even if the HIV infection has not been diagnosed and treated. This happens as the HIV antibodies bring down the viral load and infected individuals enter the clinically latent stage (chronic HIV infection). Many people may have missed the diagnosis of HIV if they were told by a doctor their rash was due to some allergy or viral flu but did not get tested properly.

Other Infections

When a person contracts HIV, they are also at increased risk of other infections. Some of these are sexually transmitted and can be contacted at the same time as HIV (e.g. syphilis, herpes simplex virus, etc.), while some can occur later in the disease due to a weakened immune system (e.g. candida/thrush). These infections can also cause skin rashes or lesions to develop, so it is important to look out for any abnormal skin changes if you are concerned about any potential exposure risk, and also to inform your doctor of your concerns.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacteria Treponema Pallidum and is commonly diagnosed together with new HIV infection as they share common risk factors. The primary stage of syphilis infection is a painless chancre or ulcer at the primary site of infection (usually genital, rectal, or oral), but it may go unnoticed by many people. The secondary stage of syphilis is a skin rash which can look very similar to acute HIV rash, with reddish papules around the trunk, arms and legs, and usually over the palms and soles as well – most of the time, this rash is not itchy or painful. Most people who present with a skin rash after potential exposure risk should be tested for both HIV and syphilis together.

Herpes Simplex Virus

Another sexually transmitted infection, herpes simplex virus (HSV) can cause small crops of fluid-filled blisters that can start off looking like a reddish rash. They are usually slightly itchy or painful, and may then burst to form small ulcers which will then dry and crust over. Sometimes, the initial herpes outbreak may be preceded by some viral, flu-like symptoms including fever and swollen lymph nodes. There is no ‘cure’ for herpes, but usually, your immune system will help to control the infection and keep it dormant, although reactivation and clinical outbreaks can still occur (around 2-3x per year on average). Herpes can be contracted both together with acute HIV or can recur frequently in late-stage HIV – persistent or chronic HSV lesions in the setting of untreated or late-stage HIV is considered an AIDS-defining illness, as the immune system has been weakened by the HIV virus and can no longer keep the HSV infection suppressed.

Kaposi Sarcoma

Not quite a rash, but rather an abnormal growth of capillary blood vessel tissues, Kaposi Sarcoma (KS) is actually a type of cancer that can be found in late-stage HIV.
It is caused by an infection with human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) which is an opportunistic infection and is also considered an AIDS-defining illness as the transformation of the skin cells only occurs in the presence of a weakened immune system. KS appears as either a single or multiple reddish purplish bumps over the skin or mucous membranes.
They are usually painless and not itchy but can cause other symptoms if they grow on internal organs such as the gastrointestinal tract or the lungs (e.g. GI bleeding, shortness of breath, etc.).
Also, read the 10 Common HIV-Related Opportunistic Infections (IOs)

Candidiasis

Also known as thrush, candida is a very common fungal organism that is found in the environment and can be isolated from around 30-50% of healthy people. Most of the time, it does not cause any symptoms of infection; however, in people with a weakened immune system, there may be an invasive overgrowth of the organism which leads to symptoms. Common areas of candida infection are the nails, skin, mouth/tongue, and genital region. Depending on the region affected, symptoms may include an itchy rash, with scaly or flaking skin, sometimes with a soft whitish layer which can be scraped off.
These are just some of the different types of skin rashes and lesions that may be present in an HIV infection. There is no single type of HIV rash that we can consider to be diagnostic by itself. It is important to assess clinical features of the rash, timing, and potential exposure risk. At the end of the day, the only way to diagnose an HIV infection will be through appropriate HIV testing at any of our clinics.
Join the HIV discussion in our Forum with our Doctors. For HIV Testing, you can walk-in to any of our clinics, for an appointment you can email us at hello@dtapclinic.com, or call any of our clinics.
Take Care. Be Safe!


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  2. World AIDS Day (2018) #KnowYourStatus – By Dr Tan Kok Kuan
  3. 4 Things You Need to Know About Penile Health
  4. Sexual Health Advice For Travellers 
  5. What are the Symptoms of HIV Infection and AIDS?
  6. Things You Need to Know about Travelling & HIV PrEP
  7. 11 Causes of Dyspareunia (Pain During Intercourse)
  8. What is HPV Vaccination (Gardasil 9)
  9. 10 Causes of abnormal Vaginal Lumps and Bumps
  10. An Overview of Gonorrhoea
  11. What is the Treatment for Cold Sores? What causes Cold Sores?
  12. Herpes: Everything You Need to Know!
  13. The HIV Pro-Viral DNA Test can be done 10 days post exposure.

Low HIV Risk Does Not Mean NO HIV Risk

As we approach the year-end festivities and parties, I am reminded of an article published more than 5 years ago on HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) scares amidst getting a needle stick injury from infected blood.
http://news.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne+News/Singapore/Story/A1Story20110801-292087.html
The story above went that a partygoer had been going to famous clubs and jabbing people with an HIV tainted syringe, presumably of her own blood, to take revenge on them.
The following excerpt reproduced from the AsiaOne article, explains this risk further
Quoting Professor Roy Chan, president of voluntary organization Action for Aids, said it is possible for HIV to be contracted in the way described. But for that to happen, the blood has to be injected within a few hours of it being drawn from the infected person.

“The needle must also penetrate the skin of the victim and reach some blood deposits.
“And it is possible for people who have been exposed to tainted blood to seek post-exposure treatment within the first day or two at a hospital to reduce the risk of contracting the infection,”

Prof Chan told TNP.

What are the odds?

So realistically what are the exact numbers and risk for such exposure? There haven’t been any studies of HIV infected needle transmissions studied outside the healthcare setting but the numbers in a comprehensive study are:

  • Blood Transfusion –  9250/10000 or 93% risk
  • Needlestick – 23/10000 or 0.23% risk
  • Needle sharing – 63/10000 or 0.63% risk

So far there hasn’t been any case reported or recorded, in the world of a successful HIV transmission from a needlestick attack or a needlestick injury outside the healthcare setting

So What about Tattoos or Piercings?

Again through numerous studies, the risk of HIV transmission through tattoos and piercings depend on a number of factors. Mainly the sterilization techniques of the equipment used.
Transmission occurs if the equipment (needles/tattoo gun) were contaminated with blood from a previously tattooed individual who carried HIV. Or even the use of dyes, wiping material (sponges/clothes) contaminated with blood. These are liquid solutions where at room temperature HIV virus may remain for up to 2 weeks
This percentage again is closely associated with the needlestick injury risk of 0.23%. However, repeated use of the needle/tattoo gun for the process does increase the overall risk percentage

What is the take-home message?

Around the world, HIV is a disease that has a stigma in society. And surrounding this stigma is a lot of unknowns and ultimately fear.
Only recently again in 2018 the media picks up on such another case in India where HIV transmission occurred during a blood transfusion.
https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/pregnant-woman-in-india-contracts-hiv-after-blood-transfusion-in-11063528
The good news is that in Singapore, all blood products are tested and screened by the authorities
If you suspect an episode which could lead to a possible HIV risk – tainted needle, needle attack, transfusion error, do speak to your doctors early to discuss this risk with us. If within 72 hours, there are options such as HIV Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) which can significantly decrease the risk of HIV transmission by more than 90%

Low HIV Risk Doesn’t Mean NO Risk

From all of us at Dr Tan and Partners, stay safe and enjoy your festive season.
Take Care!

Other Interesting Reads:

  1. An Overview of STD – From an STD Doctor
  2. The HIV Pro-Virus DNA Test can be done 10 days post exposure.
  3. Do I Have HIV Rash? Or Are They Other STD-Related Rashes?
  4. What are the Causes of Abnormal Penile Discharge?
  5. What are the Symptoms of HIV Infection and AIDS?
  6. What You Need To Know about HPV, Cervical Cancer, Pap Smear & HPV Vaccination
  7. 11 Causes of Dyspareunia (Pain During Intercourse)
  8. What is HPV Vaccination (Gardasil 9)
  9. 10 Causes of abnormal Vaginal Lumps and Bumps
  10. An Overview of Gonorrhoea
  11. Genital Warts: The Cauliflower-Like Lumps on the Genitals
  12. Syphilis Symptoms (Painless STD Sores & STD Rashes) 


References

  1. Padian N Transmission of HIV Possibly Associated with Exposure of Mucous Membrane to Contaminated Blood.MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep11;46(27): 620-3, July, 1997
  2. Bernard EJ Texas jury concludes saliva of HIV-positive man a “deadly weapon”, sentenced to 35 yrs jail.com, available online at: www.aidsmap.com/page/1430404/, 16 May 2008
  3. Pretty IA et al. Human bites and the risk of human immunodeficiency virus transmission.Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 20(3):232-9, 1999
  4. Gilbart VL Unusual HIV transmissions through blood contact: analysis of cases reported in the United Kingdom to December 1997.Communicable Disease and Public Health 1: 108-13, 1998
  5. Baggaley RF Risk of HIV-1 transmission for parenteral exposure and blood transfusion: a systematic review and meta-analysis.AIDS 20(6): 805-812, 2006
  6. Nishioka SA, Gyorkos TW. Tattoos as risk factors for transfusion- transmitted diseases. International Journal of Infectious Diseases 2001;5(1):27-34.
  7. Messahel A, Musgrove B. Infective complications of tattooing and skin piercing. Journal of Infection and Public Health 2009;2(1):7-13.
  8. Garland SM, Ung L, Vujovic OV, Said JM. Cosmetic tattooing: A potential transmission route for HIV? Australian & New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecolo- gy 2006;46(5):458-9.

What are the Sign​s & Symptoms of HIV / AIDS

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that can be spread through sexual contact, contaminated needles, blood transfusions, and other infected body fluids. It targets the immune system, specifically CD4 cells, and if left undiagnosed and untreated, can overwhelm the immune system and cause life-threatening complications.
HIV symptoms can appear at different times for different people, and some may not recall having any symptoms at all until diagnosis (which can be many years after the initial infection).

 

What are the Different Stages of HIV Infection?

HIV infection occurs in three main stages:

  1. Acute HIV Infection,
  2. Chronic HIV Infection (Clinical Latency Stage),
  3. and Late-Stage HIV or AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

HIV symptoms may vary depending on the individual and the stage of infection, and some people may not have any HIV symptoms at all.

1) Acute HIV Infection

Within the first 2-4 weeks after initial infection, the virus replicates very quickly and HIV viral load will reach a high level. People may experience flu-like symptoms, which they may describe as ‘the worst flu ever’.
This is known as Acute Retroviral Syndrome or ARS. These acute HIV symptoms may occur in about 70-80% of people.
Acute Retroviral Syndrome ARS / HIV Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Swollen glands
  • Sore throat
  • Body rash
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Acute HIV symptoms can last between several days to several weeks, until the body can develop HIV antibodies to fight the virus. This is also the stage of the greatest infectious risk to others as the HIV viral load is very high. However, do remember that these symptoms are seen in other common conditions as well, and you shouldn’t assume you have HIV just because you experienced them.
If you are concerned about any symptoms or potential exposure, it is best to see a doctor to have them evaluated and consider HIV testing.
HIV Symptoms in a Nutshell

Different HIV tests are able to detect the infection at different times

The earliest you may be able to detect the virus is with HIV DNA/RNA PCR testing, which can be accurate from 10-12 days post-exposure. Other more common tests would be the 4th Generation HIV p24 Antigen/Antibody test, which is considered conclusive from 28 days post-exposure.
If you have had a potentially risky exposure within the last 72 hours, you can consider a course of medication called HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (HIV PEP). This works to prevent the virus from replicating and taking hold in the body, and can reduce risk of transmission by more than 90%. It is only effective if started within 72 hours.

HIV Window Period & HIV Test Accuracy:

2) Chronic HIV Infection

After the early stage of acute HIV infection, the disease enters into a clinical latency stage, where the virus is developing in the body, but no symptoms are seen. During this time, the virus is still active but will replicate slowly inside the cells – it can still be transmitted to others, but the risks of transmission are lower than during the acute phase.
If you have been diagnosed with HIV and are on HIV antiretroviral treatment (HAART), the virus is often kept under control and you may experience a symptom-free period that can last decades. If the virus can be suppressed to undetectable viral load levels, we would deem the risk of transmission extremely low. This stage of HIV infection can last for 5-10 years.
If you have HIV but are not on treatment, then it will eventually progress to late stage infection, known as AIDS.

3) AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)

Late Stage HIV / AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)
If you have HIV but are not on antiretroviral treatment, it will eventually weaken your immune system and progress to AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
Symptoms or signs of late stage HIV / AIDS may include:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Recurring fever
  • Profuse night sweats
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Swollen glands
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Mouth or genital sores and ulcers
  • Fungal infections, especially oral thrush
  • Shortness of breath, lung infections (e.g. PCP)
  • Memory loss, limb weakness and other neurological disorders
  • Mucous membrane and skin rashes and lesions (patches of reddish-purplish lesions may be characteristic of Kaposi sarcoma)

Many of these signs and symptoms in AIDS are due to Opportunistic Infections (OI’s), which are organisms that usually only cause infections in people with a weak immune system. People with normal functioning immune systems will typically be able to fight these types of infections off, or suppress them so they do not manifest with significant symptoms.
Common types of OI’s include candidiasis (thrush), pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), tuberculosis (TB), and salmonella colitis infection, among many others.
In someone who is diagnosed with late-stage HIV and whose CD4 cell count is found to be very low, doctors will usually start on certain medications such as antifungals or antibiotics to prevent these OI’s; they will be kept on these medications as prophylaxis, while they are taking their regular HIV medications, until their CD4 count is high enough (indicating their immune system is strong enough to fight off these infections by itself).
Even if you experience the previously mentioned symptoms, it is impossible to confirm HIV infection unless you get tested. If you are concerned about a possible exposure, please visit our clinics for a consultation and evaluation.
Take Care!


Other Interesting Reads:

  1. Weak Erection? Erectile Dysfunction? How to Improve Erection with Pills
  2. The HIV Provirus DNA Test can be done 10 days post exposure.
  3. Do I Have HIV Rash? Or Are They Other STD-Related Rashes?
  4. What are the Causes of Abnormal Penile Discharge?
  5. An Overview of STD – From an STD Doctor
  6. What You Need To Know about HPV, Cervical Cancer, Pap Smear & HPV Vaccination
  7. Anonymous HIV Testing – What You Need to Know
  8. Low HIV Risk Doesn’t Mean No HIV Risk
  9. What is HPV Vaccination (Gardasil 9)
  10. 10 Causes of abnormal Vaginal Lumps and Bumps
  11. An Overview of Gonorrhoea
  12. What is the Treatment for Cold Sores? What causes Cold Sores?
  13. Genital Warts: The Cauliflower-Like Lumps on the Genitals
  14. Syphilis Symptoms (Painless STD Sores & STD Rashes)

10 Famous People with HIV

1.) Charlie Sheen

The actor who is best known for the long-running TV series Two and a Half Men. Charlie Sheen revealed his HIV status in 2015. He was known to have used illegal drugs and had high-risk sex.

 

2.) Freddie Mercury

The famous frontman of the rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury died from complications of AIDS in 1991 at just 45 years old.

 

3.) Magic Johnson

The basketball superstar of the LA Lakers, Magic Johnson went public with his HIV status in 1991. He is still in good health with daily medications to control his HIV infection.

 

4.) Greg Louganis

Greg Louganis shot to fame for winning multiple gold medals for diving including Olympic gold. He famously hit his head on the springboard during the 1988 Seoul Olympic games sparking fears of HIV possibly spreading to other athletes via his blood being in the diving pool.

 

5.) Rock Hudson

The American heart-throb TV star of the 50’s and 60’s, Rock Hudson died from complications of AIDS in 1985 at 60 years of age.

 

6.) Fela Kuti

Famous musician and activist Fela Kuti died from complications of AIDS in 1997 at the age of 59 years old.

 

7.) Liberace

Famous pianist and showman Liberace died from complications of AIDS in 1987 at the age of 68.

 

8.) Andy Bell

Pop group Erasure frontman Andy Bell was diagnosed with HIV in 1998.

 

9.) Tina Chow

Famous model and jewelry designer Tina Chow was diagnosed with HIV in 1989. She became an activist and educated many on HIV and AIDS. She passed away in 1992 at the age of 41 from complications of AIDS
 
 

10.) Paddy Chew

Paddy Chew was the first person with the courage to come out publicly about his HIV status in Singapore. He wrote an autobiographical play called Completely With/Without Character. He passed away in 1999 from AIDS complications.
 

 

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