ART or ARV
ART stands for Anti Retroviral Treatment. HIV is a retrovirus so it is treated with anti-retroviral medications. They suppress HIV. Sometimes referred to as ARV, HIV treatment, HIV drugs, HIV meds, antivirals, combination therapy (CART) or Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART).
There are different classes or types of drugs that make up anti-retroviral treatment, such as nucleoside analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitors, protease inhibitors and non-nucleoside analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitors. NAPWA has comprehensive information on the different types of HIV medication.
CD4 cells are immune cells that assist in fighting infection in the body. Over time, untreated HIV usually causes a reduction in the number of CD4 cells, therefore doctors conduct a blood test to count them (per cubic millilitre of blood) to:
- Monitor your immune system
- Decide when you should start treatment
- Assess how well your current treatment is working
CD4 are sometimes called ‘helper T cells’ or ‘T cells’.
Aidsmap has more information on understanding CD4
Inflammation refers to the body’s natural response to injury or infection. The body sends its fluids to the site of injury of infection in an effort to heal itself. While we typically think of inflammation as the swelling that occurs at the site of an injury, HIV can cause a more subtle cellular level of chronic inflammation that may, over time, lead to symptoms of premature ageing and damage to the heart, liver and kidneys.
Lube or lubricant is liquid that prevents drying and reduces friction between surfaces. Water-based lube is an important part of safe sex, as it prevents small breaches in the skin or tears in condoms through which HIV can pass. You can buy lube at any chemist or supermarket.
Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
PEP is a special combination of the HIV medications that are given to people who may have been exposed to HIV. It may prevent seroconversion.
To be effective PEP must be started within 72 hours of exposure to HIV, and the sooner PEP is started, the more chance it has to work.
PEP is available at sexual health clinics or your Emergency Department
HIV can become resistant to treatment, which means it stops working effectively against the virus. Resistance usually occurs when HIV medication is not taken exactly as prescribed, e.g. by missing doses.
Aidsmap has an online booklet including detailed information on resistance.
Serconcordant refers to a couple who have the same HIV status. That is, both partners are HIV negative or both are HIV positive.
Seroconversion and serconversion illness
Seroconversion refers to the time after exposure to HIV that the body produces anti-bodies to the virus, making the HIV detectable in the blood.
It usually occurs a few weeks after exposure to HIV.
Seroconversion is often accompanied by a bout of sickness, called ‘seroconversion illness’. Common features of seroconversion illness are much like the flu: fever, rash, swollen lymph nodes and aches and pains.
A person is highly infectious during serconversion illness.
Viral load refers to the amount of HIV in the blood. A viral load test counts the copies of HIV RNA per millilitre of blood. The more virus that exists in the blood, the greater the risk it is that you will develop HIV illnesses.
Viral load testing enables you to determine how quickly HIV is progressing or how well your HIV treatments are working.
Undetectable viral load
All viral-load tests have a cut-off point below which they cannot detect HIV. The lower limit of detection is usually 40 or 50 copies/ml. Until recently, this was the lowest detectable level for tests most commonly used in routine viral load monitoring. There are now some ultra-sensitive tests that can measure below 20 copies/ml. If your viral load is below 50 it is said to be undetectable.
It doesn’t mean that HIV has disappeared from your blood, and the virus may be detectable in other body fluids (like lymph fluid, semen or vaginal fluids).
An undetectable viral load often indicates your medications are working very well, that you are unlikely to become ill and you are less likely to be able to pass the virus to anybody else.
Aidsmap has more information on understanding your viral load
A virus is a small infective organism which can only replicate inside the cells of another living organism. HIV replicates in the CD4 cells, among others.