Symptoms of STIs, cervical cancer and HIV can include:
HIV – what you need to know
What is HIV?
HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. This virus attacks the immune system, our body’s natural defence against illness. If HIV is left untreated, a person’s immune system will get weaker and weaker until it can no longer fight off infections. This can be life-threatening.
The most important target for the human immunodeficiency virus is CD4 cells in the body. CD4 cells are white blood cells that prevent or fight infection from viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites, as well as some cancers. HIV infection destroys CD4 cells, making the body weak when attacked.
In addition to killing important CD4 immune cells, HIV can:
- affect the body’s organs, such as the nervous system and the kidneys,
- cause weight loss,
- night sweats and
Antiretroviral treatment (ART) prevents this from happening.
Who is at risk?
Everyone is at risk of contracting HIV, but some people are more at risk than others.
Young girls and women
Right to Care sees many new HIV infections in adult girls and young women. We encourage young people need to test for HIV before they begin their exciting journey into adulthood.
Gender based violence is at a crisis point in South Africa, and takes place all over the world. When women are disempowered and fearful:
- they are unable to insist that their partner wears a condom and
- they are more at risk of becoming infected with HIV and/or sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
HIV is passed from mother to child during pregnancy, labour and delivery, or breastfeeding. This is why women must test for HIV and get onto treatment before they become pregnant.
While women have to seek healthcare services during pregnancy, childbirth and after childbirth, men tend to avoid seeing a doctor. Some men have told us they are scared of testing. We tell men why they shouldn’t be afraid and we encourage them to test for HIV and to circumcise.
- some men are HIV positive but don’t tell their partners and
- too many men are still suffering and dying from advanced acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Right to Care is therefore working with healthcare facilities to encourage men to seek healthcare services. The presence of male healthcare workers is helping men feel more relaxed when they get to a healthcare facility, which means they agree to test and get onto treatment if necessary.
Symptoms of HIV
Initially you may experience flu-like symptoms. Other symptoms can include:
Aching muscles and tiredness
Sore eyes and sensitivity to light
Ulceration of the inside surface of the mouth and genitals
Testing for HIV
When you go for an HIV test at your healthcare facility, you will be counselled before the test. This is to prepare you for a negative or a positive result. You will be counselled after the test as well.
If you are negative, your healthcare worker will remind you how to stay negative.
If you test HIV-positive:
- you will be provided with ART
- your healthcare worker will talk to you about managing your condition
- you will be closely monitored
- you must attend follow up appointments and you must adhere to your treatment
- regular blood tests will be done to make sure the amount of human immunodeficiency virus in your body is going down. When your doctor or nurse talks about your viral load, they mean the level of the human immunodeficiency virus in your body.
Tuberculosis (TB) – what you need to know
South Africa has one of the highest rates of tuberculosis (TB) worldwide. TB is an infectious disease usually caused by a tuberculosis bacteria. It is estimated that about 80% of the South African population is infected with TB bacteria. TB generally affects the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body.
Sometimes people have TB but do not have symptoms. This is called latent TB. The highest prevalence of latent TB, estimated at 88%, has been found among those aged 30-39 living in townships and informal settlements. About 10% of latent infections progress to active TB which, if left untreated, kills about half of those affected.
Symptoms of TB
Common symptoms of TB are:
- chest pain,
- loss of weight,
- loss of appetite,
- coughing up blood,
- sweating at night,
- shortness of breath and
- difficulty in breathing.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – what you need to know
What are STIs?
STIs are infections that are passed on during unprotected sex with an infected partner. This includes vaginal, anal or oral sex. Some STIs can be passed on by just skin-to-skin contact. Common STIs include:
- genital herpes,
- genital warts,
- syphilis and
You may not have any obvious symptoms if you have a STI.
To avoid getting an STI, use a condom with your partner/s.
Symptoms can include:
- Sores or lumps on the vagina, penis or anus,
- Clear, white, yellow or green discharge coming out of the penis or vagina. This discharge is often smelly,
- Pain in the lower abdomen,
- A burning feeling when you urinate,
- Itching and/or redness around the penis or vagina,
- Pain when having sex,
- Painful or swollen testicles and
- Swollen glands, particularly in the groin area.
If you notice any of these go to your nearest healthcare facility.
Not all STIs will give you symptoms. So if your partner is experiencing symptoms or if you have had unprotected sex, go and get checked.
Many people feel scared to ask for help, as they find it embarrassing and worry about the stigma attached to STIs. Do not ignore symptoms of STIs. Get treated to protect your future health, and in the case of pregnant women, the health of your baby.
Hepatitis C – What you need to know
Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It can damage the liver and cause serious illnesses and even death in a small percentage of people.
You can get infected through contact with an HCV-infected person’s blood or body fluids. This is why people with HCV are also vulnerable to HIV.
A major risk factor for both HIV and HCV infection is injection drug use. Sharing needles or other drug injection equipment increases the risk of contact with HIV- or HCV-infected blood.
Infection with both HIV and HCV is called HIV/HCV coinfection. HIV may cause chronic HCV to advance faster.
Many HCV-infected individuals are unaware that they are infected which drives new HCV infections.
Early diagnosis and getting people onto treatment is critical for preventing the spread of HCV.