Why pre-marital screening is needed?

WITH an increase in the number of Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, cases in the Sultanate, it has become imperative for couples to go for a pre-marital test to avoid complications in the future.
Premarital screening is expected to prevent a lot of problems that may crop up between couples in the future, including for potential genetic and infectious diseases.
At the same time, a question arises. Can the outcome of one such test be considered conclusive?
Specialists say some patients develop no symptoms or have only mild symptoms. During this time, it is possible to transmit the disease to other people through bodily fluids.
According to Dr Yousuf Ali al Mulla, a surgeon at Khoula Hospital, acute HIV infection is the earliest stage of HIV infection. It generally develops within two to four weeks after a person is infected with HIV.
He said asymptomatic HIV infection or clinical latency is a stage where HIV continues to multiply in the body but at very low levels. “People with chronic HIV infection may not have HIV-related symptoms.”
Dr Al Mulla says that Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Aids) is a condition caused by HIV infection. “Aids is the final and most severe stage of HIV infection. By then, the virus would have damaged the immune system and the body can’t fight infections anymore.”
The incubation period — from HIV infection until the development of Aids — is estimated at approximately 10 years for young adults.
Dr Al Mulla says: “Antibodies usually show up in the blood within three months, but can sometimes as long as six months. If you feel you have been exposed to HIV but have tested negative, then go for a test once again. Tests at 6, 12, and 24 weeks can be done to make sure you are not infected,” he said. In the Sultanate, 135 HIV cases were registered in 2016, a 4.9 per cent increase over 2015, according to the Ministry of Health.
This number represents patients who underwent blood tests as part of routine visits to polyclinics or blood banks to donate blood. Some cases were detected during the screening of women receiving antenatal care (ANC), the care women receive from healthcare professionals during their pregnancy. Which means, it does not necessarily reflect the actual number of cases.
The figures also show 1,684 Omani persons were living with HIV (PLHIV) until the end of 2016 and 1,183 receiving Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ARV), which is a combination of medicines used to slow down the rate at which HIV multiplies in the body.
Of these, 788 were male (66.6 per cent of male PLHIV) and 395 females (33.3 per cent of female PLHIV).
A total of 61 people died from Aids that year, while the previous year saw 44 deaths. So, what has been the cause of HIV in the country?
According to the ministry, unprotected sex was responsible for 65 per cent of cases, drugs (5 per cent), mother-to-child transmission (5 per cent) and other unspecified causes (25 per cent).
The National Aids Programme attributes this to “relations with the other communities” and “frequent travel to nations with high incidence of Aids”.
“People contract the virus through unprotected sex with someone who has HIV or sharing of drug needles with someone infected with HIV. It also spreads from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding,” said Dr Al Mulla.
He had a word of caution. Beware of ‘hidden danger’s, go for pre-marital screening, practise safe sex and don’t share personal belongings, including safety razors.