Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Early Signs of HIV

A year or two before I found out I'm positive, a thought came into me. Could I possibly be HIV positive? This came as I have noticed several early signs that I chose to ignore: 

  • Two years ago, I noticed night sweat. But I managed to convince myself that it was just because it's May, and that summer was extra-ordinarily hot! 
  • Since 2-3 years ago, I noticed a sudden increase of my mouth sores (singaw). The sores were appearing everywhere, one after another. Once one heals, a new one appears. They were not just in the typical "mouth sore prone areas" of the mouth. They appear everywhere. In unexpected areas. Gums, cheeks, throat, under the tongue, etc. And dude, they were big and painful, and took several weeks to heal! Again, I convinced myself that it's not necessary an HIV sign. I'm really prone to singaw even before I became sexually active (though mas dumami 2 years ago). Literally, for one year, I never had a single day when I had no singaw. Ouch!! 
  • Two years ago, I got gonnorhea. It was easily treated by antibiotics prescribed by my urologist. One year after, I had another incident of gonnorhea. Well, I already knew that a pozzie can get STD easier than a non-pozzie. I was even advised to by my urologist to take an HIV test. But I refused! 
  • Then, I had an extra-pulmonary TB (ePTB). I read that it's common practice for doctors to advise patients with this type of TB to have an HIV test, because people with normal immune system don't normally get this infection. 
  • Last year, my friends started to notice that I was losing weight. Again, I convinced myself that it was due to my ePTB, and not HIV.

I knew then that these were some of the early signs of HIV. But I refused to have the test. Why? Like most pinoys, my reasons are: (1) Fear (2) If i'm positive, there's no cure anyway.  But I learned my lesson the hard way.

There are certainly 1,001 reasons to be tested early especially if you are at risk. It it could be a matter of life and death. As for myself, I only had my test when my immune system was already very low and I was already getting several potentially fatal opportunistic infections (TB, pneumonia, meningitis) while I was confined in the hospital. These infections were rather serious and could have costed me my life, aside from being too costly on the pocket. Even if I had an HMO, the HMO didn't cover my hospitalization expense since HIV is an exclusion. So double whammy, I went to an expensive private hospital thinking I'm covered by my HMO, and found out later the cost is on me!

If I had my test done early, I could have avoided getting TB, pneumonia and meningitis. How? Through ARV (Anti-retroviral Treatment, which is given for free). Once the CD4 count of a PLHIV reaches below 350, ARV can be started to control HIV, and allow CD4 to recover and increase . Also, if one's CD4 count is already low upon testing, prophylaxis (or preventive medicines) can be taken to avoid getting OI's. If I had only done the test early...
  • I could have avoided the incision and drainage surgery that removed the lymph nodes caused by my TB. 
  • I could have avoided getting pneumonia and meningitis. 
  • I could have avoided being hospitalized for more than 1 month. 
  • I could have avoided spending several hundred thousands for hospital expenses, medicines and unearned salary due to my long medical leave.  Imagine, I could have used this money to travel to Europe and South America! 
  • I could have avoided not going to public places for several months while my CD4 is below 200. I could not have stopped my "normal" lifestyle (cinema, malls, gym, sports, going out with friends).
  • I could have spared my kidney and liver from the toxic and expensive medicines I took to cure TB, pneumonia and meningitis. 
  • It could have taken a shorter time for my ARVs to increase my CD4 (the lower the CD4 count, the longer it takes to increase it.)

I know a lot about HIV before I was diagnosed especially on the prevention aspect, but I didn't know about CD4, ARV and prophylaxis. I wish I knew them. I made a big mistake of not getting tested before OI's started to attack. And it's something I really regret. But, that's already past. I just hope that at least others learn something from my mistake. 

So if you suspect you are HIV positive, have yourself tested NOW! There's no need to fear. HIV is not a death sentence. Late diagnosis is!  

Here are some of the HIV testing centers in the country (See this link). And most centers do it for free!