Recognised in the early 1980s, AIDS has evolved from a mysterious illness to a global pandemic, with cases reported from virtually every country.
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS there were about 35 million individuals living with HIV infection at the end of 2013, close to 50% were females and 3.2 million were children under 15yrs of age.
In many regions of the world, new HIV infections are concentrated among young people in the age group of 15 to 24yrs. Sub Saharan Africa continues to bear the brunt of the global epidemic.
According to the NACO reports the total number of people living with HIV in India is estimated at 21.40 lakhs (15.90 lakhs–28.39 lakhs) in 2017.
Acquired Immuno-deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a fatal illness caused by a virus known as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
HIV systematically breaks down and damages the body’s defence or immune system, leaving the affected individual at risk to a host of life-threatening and often fatal infections and cancers.
The most noticeable feature of HIV infection is that once infected the individual will remain infected for life.
How does HIV infect the body?
HIV infects the T-helper cell, a type of white blood cell which keeps us healthy by fighting off diseases and infections. Since the HIV cannot reproduce on its own, it attaches itself to a T-helper cell, takes control of its DNA and begins to replicate it. This, in turn, causes more and more HIV cells to be released into the body’s bloodstream which furthers the multiplication process. This is called the HIV lifecycle. Within a short span of time, the HIV weakens your body’s immune system. How quickly the virus develops depends on a number of factors including the patient’s general health, how quickly they are diagnosed post infection and how consistently they get treated.
Symptoms of HIV infection
At every stage of HIV infection, the HIV symptoms can vary from person-to-person in type and severity. In fact, some people might not display any symptoms for AIDS for years together. With a proper antiretroviral treatment, the virus replicates itself and further damages your immune system.
Stage 1: Acute primary infection
Around one to four weeks after contracting HIV, some people will experience HIV symptoms that are similar to symptoms of the flu. These may last only for about a week or two, and you may feel only a few HIV symptoms or sometimes none at all. However, just experiencing these symptoms for AIDS alone is not a reliable way of diagnosing HIV.
Symptoms can include:
- Fever (raised temperature)
- body rash
- sore throat
- swollen glands
- upset stomach
- joint aches and pains
- muscle pain
HIV symptoms occur when your body reacts to the virus. Once your cells are infected by the HIV, they begin circulating your bloodstream. Your immune system identifies them as an infection and creates HIV antibodies through a process called seroconversion. The time taken for this entire process differs from person to person but can take up to a few months.
Stage 2: Asymptomatic stage
Once an HIV patient has gone through the first stage, it is possible for them to feel better. More often than not, HIV will not show any other symptoms for anything between 10 to 15 years depending on your general health and age. However, the virus stays active, infecting more cells and replicating itself. If left untested for long, HIV can cause severe damage to your body’s immune system.
Stage 3: Symptomatic HIV infection
By this stage, the patient’s immune system is extremely damaged. At this point, it is easy for them to contract serious illnesses, fungal or bacterial infections that would usually be easy for your immune system to fight. These infections and diseases are called ‘opportunistic infections’.
Stage three symptoms can include:
- Weight loss
- Chronic diarrhoea
- Night sweats
- Persistent cough
- Mouth and skin problems
- Regular infections
- Serious illness or disease.
The term AIDS refers only to the final stage of HIV infection.
How does HIV spread?
HIV spreads through body fluids from a person who has HIV.
The main ways HIV is contracted include:
- Unprotected sex with an HIV patient, especially unprotected vaginal and anal sex
- Intravenous drug users sharing needles and syringes
- Mother suffering from HIV infection to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
- Infected blood transfusions and organ or tissue transplants.
- Needlestick injuries with infected blood.
Who should get tested for HIV?
- An individual who has had an exposure or put oneself at risk should speak to a healthcare professional immediately
- All pregnant women
- Individuals with needle stick injuries
- Intravenous drug users
Testing is the only way to know if one has HIV infection. Getting an HIV test is quick and easy. Usually, an HIV test is done by taking a blood sample.
- An HIV test should involve your full consent
- Be confidential
- Give you an opportunity to speak to a professional about what’s involved
- Give you an HIV positive or Negative result
- Depending on your results give you information on further treatment and prevention services.
Antiretroviral Therapy or ART
Antiretroviral therapy or ART involves the use of medication to treat HIV. This treatment is recommended for all HIV infected victims. While it is not a cure for HIV, it can help victims live longer and healthier lives. It also reduces the risk of transmission.
How to reduce the risk of getting HIV?
- Get tested for HIV
- Know the HIV status of your partner
- Use only latex condoms
- Get tested & treated for STDs
- Talk to your doctor about pre-exposure prophylaxis
- Don’t inject drugs.
- If you are a new or expectant mother diagnosed with HIV then taking HIV treatment will drastically reduce the risk of passing HIV symptoms to your baby. This can happen during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
What is post-exposure prophylaxis?
Post-exposure prophylaxis is another name for an emergency treatment for HIV. It a short course of antiretroviral medication that prevents exposure to HIV from becoming a life-threatening infection. However, PEP is not easily available, and not everyone has access to it. Bear in mind that a healthcare professional must be the one to advise you to take PEP.
PEP is usually administered if:
- You have not been exposed to HIV longer than 72 hours
- you are not already living with HIV
- the mucous membrane surrounding your vagina, rectum, eyes or mouth has been in direct contact with someone’s infectious bodily fluid
- an open wound that has been in direct contact with someone’s infectious bodily fluid
- the source of exposure is infected with HIV or their HIV status is unknown
HIV and pregnancy:
- A pregnant woman living with HIV can pass it on to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth and even during breastfeeding.
- Getting the right treatment of AIDS during pregnancy and breastfeeding can eliminate the risk of your baby receiving the virus.
- Regularly attending antenatal appointments allows you to get tested for HIV and receive HIV treatment and medical advice to keep you and your baby healthy.
One of the most widely spread myths is that people living with HV can be cured. There is no cure yet for HIV patients, but with the right antiretroviral treatment, they can manage the disease without having to compromise on their quality of life. Head over to Neuberg Diagnostics today for comprehensive tests and treatments. You can also check out our blog on common summer diseases.