HIV is a virus that damages the immune system. The immune system
helps the body fight off infections. Untreated HIV infects and kills CD4
cells, which are a type of T cells. Over time, as HIV kills more CD4
cells, the body is more likely to get various types of infections and
The virus doesn’t spread in air or water, or through casual contact.
HIV is a lifelong condition and currently there is no cure, although many scientists are working to find one.
Without treatment, a person with HIV is likely to develop a serious condition called AIDS. At that point, the immune system is too weak to fight off other diseases and infections.
WHAT IS AIDS?
AIDS (Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome) is a syndrome caused by a virus called HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). The disease alters the immune system, making people much more vulnerable to infections and diseases.
AIDS is a disease that can develop in people with HIV. It’s the most advanced stage of HIV. But just because a person has HIV doesn’t mean they’ll develop AIDS.
HIV is a virus whereas AIDS is a medical condition.
HIV is a retrovirus that infects the vital organs and cells of the human immune system.
The rate of virus progression varies widely between individuals and depends on many factors.
HOW IS HIV TRANSMITTED?
• Sexual transmission: it can happen when there is contact with infected sexual fluids (rectal, genital, or oral mucous membranes). This can happen while having sex without a condom, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex, or sharing sex toys with someone who is HIV-positive.
• Perinatal transmission: a mother can transmit HIV to her child during childbirth, pregnancy, and also through breastfeeding. Through “pre-mastication,” or chewing a baby’s food before feeding it to them
• Blood transmission: the risk of transmitting HIV through blood transfusion is extremely low in developed countries, thanks to meticulous screening and precautions.
• by sharing needles, syringes, and other items for injection drug use
• by sharing tattoo equipment without sterilizing it between uses
• through exposure to the blood of someone living with HIV, such as through a needle stick
For the most part, the later symptoms of HIV infection are the result of infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and/or parasites.
These conditions do not normally develop in individuals with healthy immune systems, which protect the body against infection.
ACUTE HIV INFECTION: Some people with HIV infection have no symptoms
until several months or even years after contracting the virus. However,
most may develop symptoms similar to flu 2–6 weeks after catching the
virus. This is called acute retroviral syndrome.
The symptoms of early HIV infection may include:
• joint pain
• muscle aches
• night sweats
• a red rash
• unintentional weight loss
LATENT PERIOD: In many cases, after the initial symptoms disappear, there will not be any further symptoms for many years.
During this time, the virus carries on developing and damaging the immune system and organs. Without medication that stops HIV replicating, this process of slow immune depletion can continue, typically for an average of 10 years. The person living with HIV often experiences no symptoms, feels well, and appears healthy.
LATE-STAGE HIV INFECTION: If left untreated, HIV weakens the ability
to fight infection. The person becomes vulnerable to serious illnesses.
This stage is known as AIDS or stage 3 HIV.
Symptoms of late-stage HIV infection may include:
• blurred vision
• persistent diarrhea
• dry cough
• fever of above 37 °C lasting for weeks
• permanent tiredness
• shortness of breath (dyspnea)
• swollen glands lasting for weeks
• unintentional weight loss
• white spots on the tongue or mouth
WHAT TESTS ARE USED TO DIAGNOSE HIV?
Several different tests can be used to diagnose HIV.
• Antibody/antigen tests: These are most commonly used. They check the blood for antibodies and antigens. An antibody is a type of protein the body makes to fight an infection. An antigen, on the other hand, is the part of the virus that activates the immune system.
• Antibody tests: These tests check the blood solely for antibodies.
• OraQuick HIV Test: An oral swab provides results in as little as 20 minutes.
• Home Access HIV-1 Test System: After the person pricks their finger, they send a blood sample to a licensed laboratory. They can remain anonymous and call for results the next business day.
• Nucleic acid test (NAT): This expensive test isn’t used for general screening. It’s for people who have early symptoms of HIV or have a known risk factor. This test doesn’t look for antibodies; it looks for the virus itself. This test is usually accompanied or confirmed by an antibody test.
There is currently no cure for HIV or AIDS. Treatments can stop the progression of the condition and allow most people living with HIV the opportunity to live a long and relatively healthy life.
Emergency HIV pills (post-exposure prophylaxis): If an individual believes they have been exposed to the virus within the last 72 hours (3 days), anti-HIV medications, called PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) may stop infection. The treatment should be taken as soon as possible after contact with the virus.
Antiretroviral drugs: HIV is treated with antiretrovirals (ARVs). The treatment fights the HIV infection and slows down the spread of the virus in the body. Generally, people living with HIV take a combination of medications called HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) or cART (combination antiretroviral therapy).
These antiretroviral medications are grouped into six classes:
• nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)
• non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)
• protease inhibitors
• fusion inhibitors
• CCR5 antagonists, also known as entry inhibitors
• integrase inhibitors
Although many researchers are working to develop one, there’s currently no vaccine available to prevent the transmission of HIV. However, taking certain steps can help prevent the spread of HIV.
Steps to help prevent the spread of HIV include:
Avoid sharing needles: HIV is transmitted through blood and can be contracted by using contaminated materials.
Consider PEP: A person who has been exposed to HIV should contact their healthcare provider about obtaining post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP can reduce the risk of contracting HIV. PEP should be started as soon as possible after exposure, but before 36 to 72 hours have passed.
HIV infection weakens your immune system, making you much more likely to develop numerous infections and certain types of cancers.
INFECTIONS COMMON TO HIV/AIDS:
Tuberculosis (TB): In resource-limited nations, TB is the most common opportunistic infection associated with HIV. It’s a leading cause of death among people with AIDS.
Cytomegalovirus( CMV): This common herpes virus is transmitted in body fluids such as saliva, blood, urine, semen and breast milk.
Candidiasis: Candidiasis is a common HIV-related infection. It causes inflammation and a thick, white coating on the mucous membranes of your mouth, tongue, esophagus or vagina.
Cryptococcal meningitis: Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord (meninges).
Toxoplasmosis: This potentially deadly infection is caused by Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite spread primarily by cats.
CANCERS COMMON TO HIV/AIDS:
Kaposi’s sarcoma: A tumor of the blood vessel walls, this cancer is rare in people not infected with HIV, but common in HIV-positive people. It usually appears as pink, red or purple lesions on the skin and mouth. In people with darker skin, the lesions may look dark brown or black. Kaposi’s sarcoma can also affect the internal organs, including the digestive tract and lungs.
Lymphoma: This cancer starts in the white blood cells. The most common early sign is painless swelling of the lymph nodes in your neck, armpit or groin.
Wasting syndrome: It’s defined as a loss of at least 10 percent of body weight, often accompanied by diarrhea, chronic weakness and fever.
Neurological complications: Although AIDS doesn’t appear to infect the nerve cells, it can cause neurological symptoms such as confusion, forgetfulness, depression, anxiety and difficulty walking.
Kidney disease: HIV-associated nephropathy (HIVAN) is an inflammation of the nephrons.
WHEN DOES HIV BECOME AIDS?
HIV destroys CD4 T cells — white blood cells that play a large role in helping your body fight disease. The fewer CD4 T cells you have, the weaker your immune system becomes.
You can have an HIV infection for years before it turns into AIDS. AIDS is diagnosed when the CD4 T cell count falls below 200 or you have an AIDS-defining complication.