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People with HIV may have trouble recognizing facial cues

Category: HIV

There may be some people out there who believe that it's not important to use STD testing services because they don't have any signs of a condition. However, it's important to understand that many of these infections and viruses don't have any symptoms until they are in the late stages, or the signs may not be something that they would normally associate with having an STD or HIV. For example, researchers from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome recently discovered that one sign of HIV may be a lack of ability to recognize emotions in people's faces.

The scientists discovered that people with HIV have a more difficult time recognizing fear or even happiness in the faces of others, compared to those who do not have the virus.

A surprising issue
According to the researchers, there is a complex process that goes on in the brain that allows people to recognize emotion in others' faces. Many different parts of the brain are involved, including the frontostriatal pathway and amygdala. As the researchers explained, the frontostriatal pathway controls learning and behavior, while the amygdala involves memory and emotion. If people lose function in these areas of the brain, their lives can become far more difficult, particularly their interactions with other individuals.

The researchers examined two groups of people - one with HIV and another without to see how well they were able to recognize emotions on the faces of other individuals. They found that out of the most basic expressions - disgust, anger, fear, happiness, surprise and sadness - fear is the most difficult to recognize. The scientists also found that people with HIV had a particularly difficult time recognizing fear in the faces of others, compared to those without the virus.

Furthermore, people who had experienced AIDS-related complications,such as Kaposi's sarcoma, tuberculosis or pneumonia, and those with memory problems were less likely to be able to recognize happiness in others.

"The severity of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders has been significantly reduced thanks to combination antiretroviral therapy. Nevertheless our research highlights a link between cognition and facial recognition and that AIDS-related events affect both. Understanding this on a individual level can help the long-term personal management of HIV," said lead researcher Eleonora Baldonero, M.D., of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart.

Other symptoms of HIV
The other symptoms of HIV can be very difficult to spot, because they can often be confused with the signs of other, less-serious diseases. For example, about a month after contracting HIV, a person may develop a flu-like illness for a couple of weeks, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, this bout of sickness will likely subside, and a person may think that he or she is fine. Some people may experience persistent swelling of lymph nodes, but even that can be difficult to notice without visiting a doctor.

Other than that, there are no particular symptoms of HIV until the virus has progressed and has destroyed major parts of the immune system. By that point, people may be experiencing weight loss, headaches, night sweats, fatigue and diarrhea, which are all signs that HIV has become AIDS. While HIV can now be controlled with medication, once it has progressed to AIDS it may be too late. This is why it is so important for people to regularly use STD testing services so they can know if they have the virus or not, since it is unlikely that they will be able to tell on their own.

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