HIV infection and AIDS

If you think you have been exposed to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), see a doctor as soon as possible.

HIV is the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV damages the immune system, and without treatment, can lead to serious infections and cancers over time. The late stage of HIV infection is called AIDS. The difference between having an HIV infection and being given a diagnosis of AIDS is when you develop certain types of infections and cancers caused by organisms that wouldn’t normally affect healthy people. Not all people with HIV have AIDS.

Women with HIV who take effective treatment are unlikely to develop AIDS, or transmit it to their unborn baby. They also have a near-normal life expectancy.

HIV Testing

It is also important to be tested for HIV. Your doctor or sexual health clinic can order a blood test for HIV. They may also use a rapid test in the office that can provide a result within 30 minutes, but this will always need to be confirmed by laboratory tests.

There is no home testing available in Trinidad and Tobago yet. An early diagnosis can help you get the best treatment, prevent the progression to AIDS and reduce the chance of spreading the infection to others.

Whatever type of test you have, it can take up to 24 days (and sometimes longer) following exposure for blood to show positive for infection with HIV. This is known as the ‘window period’. So you may need more than one test over time to know for sure if you do or do not have an HIV infection. It is important to use safe sex and safe injecting practices while waiting for the test results, and maintaining these practices after testing, even if you get a negative result, will reduce your risk of future exposure and infection.

What if I have been exposed to HIV?
There are medications which can sometimes prevent HIV from infecting a person who has been exposed. This is known as Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). It is best to start PEP as soon as possible, and within 72 hours (three days) of exposure.

Positive HIV Test results while pregnant

There is currently an extensive services in place in Trinidad and Tobago’s health care system for pregnant women who test positive for HIV. These services extend beyond the birth of your baby.

  • HIV counselling and testing
    There is HIV counselling and testing upon admittance.
  • Disclosure and Partner testing
    All pregnant women who test positive shall be encouraged to disclose their status to their partners and to have their partners tested.
  • Post-test support and follow-up
    Health care providers will counsel patients on risk reduction and to refer them for appropriate support.
  • Treatment
    Pregnant women will be referred for follow-up treatment and care at identified treatment sites.  Along with antenatal and delivery care – Safer Obstetric Practices
  • Infant feeding counselling and support
    Counselling on infant feeding and nutrition practices is given. Breastfeeding by HIV infected mothers should be avoided.
  • Care and Support
    After delivery, the PMTCT Programme will provide quality treatment, care and support for HIV positive mothers, exposed infants and their families.
  • Diagnosis of HIV infection in infants
    Children born to HIV positive mothers will be tested for HIV at 6 weeks after birth by DNA PCR and at 18 months of age by HIV antibody
    testing.
  • Health services 
    HIV positive mothers will be counselled and encouraged to have a PAP SMEAR examination done at first diagnosis of HIV infection or when they first seek prenatal care, then another PAP SMEAR 6 months later.