What is HIV?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is a retrovirus that directly attacks the immune system of a person, reducing the natural defense of the body against infections. HIV targets a type of white blood cells called the T-helper cells.
White blood cells are the most important part of our immune system and are required to help fight off illnesses. The virus breaks down T-helper cells and takes over the host cell to make copies of its cells. The more the T-helper cells are destroyed, the weaker the immune system become while HIV continues to expand its presence within the body simultaneously.
HIV is a contagious disease that can be passed easily through bodily fluids. It is incurable as of now, but prompt HIV treatment can help prevent the virus from developing the serious set of HIV symptoms known as AIDS.
AIDS can be seen as one of the symptoms of HIV. AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. AIDS develops in the final stage of HIV in a person and is therefore also known as late-stage HIV infection. This syndrome itself is a set of symptoms that occur when the immune system of the individual has been completely ravaged by the virus.
Any infected person who suffers from serious illnesses and is incapable of fighting off simple infections such as the flu is said to have AIDS symptoms. If left untreated, AIDS often results in death.
The sooner a person is diagnosed with HIV, the greater the chances of them receiving effective treatment and living a long, healthy life. Although HIV cannot be cured, certain very helpful medications have been developed that are able to suppress the virus while keeping it from developing into AIDS.
What causes HIV?
HIV may attack anyone, but it all depends on the ability of the person to fight it off and keep it from spreading into cells and organs. The virus is said to progress when the antiretroviral therapy (ART) that prevents the growth of HIV is absent. HIV can also spread from person to person, and it can be spread in many ways, including:
- Sexual Transmission
Engaging in sexual activity with an HIV positive person can lead to the individual also getting infected. Body fluids such as vaginal or rectal fluids, oral mucous membranes, etc. can carry the HIV virus and result in transmission of the virus to other people as well.
- Blood Transmission
The use of HIV infected needles or sharing of needles for drugs or any other purpose with an HIV-positive individual may result in transmission of HIV.
- Perinatal Transmission
A mother may also transmit HIV to her child during pregnancy, childbirth or even through breast milk.
What are the signs and symptoms of HIV?
There are many signs and symptoms of HIV, particularly when it has progressed over a long period of time.
The initial HIV symptoms are listed below. These symptoms are also like the ones you may have when the body is fighting off other kinds of infections and viruses. If you are certain that you might have contracted HIV, you need to see a healthcare professional and get checked.
- Joint and muscle ache
- A sore throat
- Tiredness and lethargy
- Sweating, especially at night
- Swollen glands
- Thrush or a red rash
- Weight loss
After the initial symptoms, there may not be any other signs and symptoms of HIV until many years later. After an average of 10 years when the virus has gradually depleted the individual’s immune system, they may experience AIDS symptoms.
- Permanent weakness
- Rapid weight loss
- Blurred or double vision
- Chronic diarrhea
- A high fever that lasts for several weeks
- Enlarged glands that persist for many weeks
- The appearance of white spots on the tongue or mouth
- A dry cough
- Night sweats
- Breathing problems like bronchitis, etc.
- Developing different kinds of cancers
What is the recommended treatment for HIV?
It is crucial to be screened if you believe that you have been infected with HIV within the past week. A blood or a saliva test is usually done to determine if a person is infected or not. If the HIV virus is found to be present in the sample, the person is said to be HIV positive. However, usually a number of successive blood tests are performed before full confirmation.
As of now, there is no treatment able to completely free a person from HIV. However, modern medicine has developed ways to keep the virus from growing and ensuring that the individual lives a normal, healthy life. These medications are called antiretroviral medications.
These medicines are tablets that need to be taken every day. Due to the ability of the virus to develop resistance to one type of drug, it is recommended to use a cocktail of medicines that prevents the virus from becoming resistant and restricting the growth of it as well. These medicines work to decrease the number of HIV in the blood to the point that it is undetectable in blood tests. Taking these medicines regularly and exactly as directed by your physician is essential.
Precautionary measures for HIV
- If you believe you've been infected with HIV in the past 72 hours, make sure that you make use of emergency HIV pills known as Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). It is important that you start this treatment as soon as possible and continue it for a period of 28 days. Monitoring of HIV will still be required.
- Use condoms when taking part in sexual activities to prevent contracting the virus. It may also help to limit the number of sexual partners.
- Ensure that you use new, clean and unused needles, spoons, swabs when using any of them with other individuals you do not know well. Sharing of needles may lead to other diseases as well such as Hepatitis C.
- AIDS info – Retrovirus
- WebMD – How Do You Treat HIV?