November Resident of the Month
Alyssa Owczarczak is a 2nd year Family Medicine Resident at the Washington Health System. She was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience from Allegheny College. Afterwards, she went to Medical School at Penn State College of Medicine. She enjoys running, yoga, and being outdoors. After residency, she plans of working in the outpatient setting.
World AIDS Day:
December 1st of each year is designated “World AIDS Day”. It is a day dedicated to spreading awareness about HIV/AIDS. HIV – short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus – is a serious viral infection that will eventually lead to AIDS if left untreated. HIV attacks and destroys the body’s immune system, in particular an immune cell called a CD4 T-cell. Over time, HIV weakens the body’s immune system until the body is unable to fight off infections.
There is no cure for HIV, but it can be treated and controlled! We can treat HIV through a combination of medications called Antiviral Therapy (ARTs). By using these medications, patients infected with HIV are living longer and healthier lives.
To help you understand what an HIV infection looks like, here are the three stages of HIV:
- Phase 1: Acute Phase. This is the phase that occurs right after a person is infected with HIV. A person in this stage may experience flu-like symptoms (fever, body aches, etc) or they may not experience any symptoms at all! However, this person is highly contagious at this stage regardless of how sick they feel. This is why it is important to get tested for HIV if you think you have been exposed!
- Phase 2: Asymptomatic, chronic stage. This is the stage where HIV “lays low”. The HIV virus is slowly reproducing in the body, but the person may not feel any symptoms. The length of this stage varies from person to person. If the patient is receiving treatment for HIV, this stage can last for decades and may never progress to AIDS!
- Phase 3: AIDS. This is the phase that has everyone spooked. In this final stage, HIV has greatly weakened the body’s immune system so that it can no longer fight off dangerous, rare infections or even cancers. Symptoms of this stage include weight loss, fevers, swollen glands, night sweats, and weakness. Left untreated, a person may pass away within a few years of developing AIDS.
It is important to remember that HIV is contagious regardless of the stage it is in. HIV virus can be spread through the following means: 1) Sexual Contact 2) Sharing IV needles 3) Mother to Baby during pregnancy, birth, or breast feeding. If you think you have been exposed to HIV, contact your Primary Care Doctor about your concerns! HIV testing can often be performed through your doctor’s office, community health clinics, and the Health Department.
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