HIV/AIDS prevention and telemedicine
Practising safe sex by using contraceptives such as condoms is one way to prevent contracting HIV.Pixabay

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a life-threatening, chronic disease which is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). AIDS cannot be spread from person to person, however, HIV can.

HIV is a sexually transmitted disease and is mostly transmitted from person to person through vaginal and anal intercourse. However, it can also be spread by contact with HIV-infected blood and from unlawful use of and sharing of needles for drugs and other activities. Unfortunately, the virus can also be spread from mother to child through pregnancy, during childbirth and when breastfeeding. HIV cannot be transmitted through sweat, urine or saliva. It works by damaging your immune system and interfering with your body's ability to fight infection and disease.

Without treatment, HIV may still take several years before it weakens your system to the point that you are diagnosed with AIDS. However, with early diagnosis and effective treatment, many people with HIV will not develop any AIDS-related illnesses at all and can live a long, healthy life.

What are the symptoms of HIV/AIDS?

Most people who have been infected with HIV will experience a short-term flu-like illness two-six weeks after being infected which then lasts for up to two weeks after. After these symptoms go away, HIV may not cause any symptoms for many years even as it continues to damage your immune system. This means many people with the HIV virus do not know they are infected if they have not been tested.

Possible signs and symptoms of HIV include:

•Fever

• Headache

• Joint pain

• Cough

•Sore throat

• Painful mouth sores

• Rashes

• Diarrhoea

• Weight loss

• Night sweats

• Swollen lymph nodes

If the HIV then progresses to AIDS, you may notice many of the same symptoms as above, however additional symptoms may include:

• Chills

• Chronic diarrhoea

• Extreme and persistent fatigue

• White spots or unusual lesions on your tongue or in your mouth

How do I test for HIV/AIDS?

The only way to be sure you have HIV/AIDS is to do a lab test. Many symptoms of HIV represent other illnesses, therefore the only way to be sure is to get tested. You may then begin treatment, if necessary. HIV testing involves a blood test or a test of your saliva for signs of infection.

There is currently no cure for HIV or AIDS. However, the goal of HIV treatment is to have an undetectable viral load upon testing. This means that the level of HIV virus in your body is low enough to not be detected by a test.

What should I do to avoid getting HIV/AIDS?

The following are ways in which you can personally avoid being infected by HIV/AIDS.

1) Abstain from sex

2) Practise safe sex (eg using contraceptives such as condoms)

3) Get tested regularly for STDs (every three-six months for sexually active persons)

4) Be monogamous/ limit your number of sexual partners

5) Never share needles

6) Talk to your doctor about Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PRP) & Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PREP) medication.

How can telemedicine aid in HIV/AIDS prevention?

Telemedicine platforms such as MDLink serve as an important resource for the prevention of HIV/AIDS in our population. Among the benefits of telemedicine for HIV/AIDS prevention include:

Knowledge transfer: you may use this platform to speak to your doctor virtually to get advice on prevention such as how to use contraception and which is best for you and your sexual partner/s, what symptoms to look out for and when you should get tested. Additionally, if you or your partner have already been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, your doctor can support you both in guiding you through how to still enjoy a sexual relationship without putting your loved one at risk as well as your future children (if desired).

Prescriptions: if you are aware, you may be at risk of contracting HIV whether through sexual intercourse or otherwise, your doctor can easily send you a prescription for PREP/PEP medication. Additionally, if you are already diagnosed with the virus, you can get treatment without having to go to the doctor's office but from the safety and comfort of your home.

Early diagnosis: having telemedicine as your first step in HIV/AIDS diagnosis can ensure you get quality and accurate advice to guide you towards a diagnosis or not. If you are diagnosed, early diagnosis can mean you start treatment sooner which can then improve your chances of controlling the virus, reducing your risk of becoming more unwell and also lessening your chances of passing the virus on to others.

Follow-ups: if you've already been diagnosed and treated for HIV/AIDS telemedicine is a useful tool for you to engage with throughout your treatment. If your symptoms are non-emergent but you still require a routine check-in with your doctor, platforms such as MDLink make these follow-up sessions extremely convenient and easy. You can talk to your doctor about any new symptoms, discuss how treatment has been working for you (or not) and even get prescription refills all without setting foot in a doctor's office. These follow-ups can be facilitated through voice call, text and video call, whichever you prefer and makes you feel most comfortable.

MDLink also offers drive-thru lab testing. This gives you the opportunity to get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases all from the comfort of your vehicle and without the inconvenience of long lines and waiting rooms. Additionally, there is an on-site doctor who you can consult if you should need to.

HIV/AIDS are lifelong illnesses. This does not mean you cannot still have a long, comfortable and productive life. Platforms such as MDLink allow your treatment to adapt to the ever-changing technological times and there are far more benefits than there are disadvantages. Additionally, it allows you to gain access to all the resources you need to prevent you and your loved ones from being at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

Dr Ché Bowen, a digital health entrepreneur and family physician, is the CEO & founder of MDLink, a digital health company that provides telemedicine options. Check out the company's website at www.theMDLink.com. You can also contact him at drchebowen@themdlink.com.

Dr Ché Bowen

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