HIV Infection and AIDS

Definition

Acquired immunodeficiency disease, commonly known as its abbreviated form AIDS, is a life-threatening disease that arises with weakened immune function. This opens up the body to a host of infections that can lead to death. AIDS is caused by a virus known as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV virus damages the immune system and decreases the body’s ability to fight disease-causing organisms. Before the onset of AIDS, or a person is said to be HIV positive. A person who is HIV infected does not automatically have AIDS but will in all likelihood develop AIDS at some point in time – rarely within months, usually in years and sometimes after decades.

HIV transmits in one of the following ways:

  • Sexual contact
  • By coming in contact with HIV-infected bloo
  • ¬†From mother to infant: During pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding.

The HIV virus can lie dormant for years before weakening the immune system to the extent that causes AIDS symptoms. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS but available medications can slow the progression of the disease significantly.

Symptoms

Symptoms of HIV/AIDS vary, depending on the phase of infection.

Primary infection

After HIV virus enters the body; it causes flu-like illness. This phase called primary or acute HIV infection manifests mild, non-specific symptoms like:

  • Fever
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Body rashes
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Genital or mouth ulcers
  • Swollen lymph glands of neck
  • Diarrhea
  • Night sweats

Clinically latent infection

In this phase, swelling of the lymph nodes persist.

Early symptomatic HIV infection

HIV virus multiplies and destroys immune cells in this stage. The common symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Coughing and breathlessness
  • Weight loss

Progression to AIDS

In the previous stage, HIV damages the immune system severely and makes it susceptible to opportunistic infections. The symptoms are:

  • Night sweats, chills and fever
  • Cough and breathlessness
  • Headaches
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Distorted and blurred vision
  • Skin rashes or bumps

Causes

HIV infection is caused by two types of viruses – HIV-1 or HIV-2 retrovirus. HIV virus destroys a kind of immune system cells called CD4+ T-cells to weaken the system. HIV also infects cells in the skin and blood. It affects cells of the heart, brain, and kidneys causing their disease.

HIV virus-infected blood, vaginal secretions, saliva or semen transmit the virus in one of the following ways:

  • During sex
  • Blood transfusions
  • Sharing needles
  • From mother to child

Unprotected sex, presence of a sexually transmitted disease (STD), and use of intravenous drugs are the biggest risk factors for developing HIV/AIDS.

HIV virus transmission is more likely during primary infection, even in the asymptomatic phase when the viral count is very high. HIV can not be transmitted without exchange of body fluids. Though the virus is present in the saliva, its transmission by coughing or sneezing is extremely unlikely.

Treatment

HIV/AIDS can not be cured. Many drugs combinations manage the viral infection. These drugs are known as antiretrovirals (ARVs). Different types of ARVs may be used in combination in which case it is known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).

  • Drugs called non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), and protease inhibitors (PIs) block replication of HIV virus.
  • Drugs called entry or fusion inhibitors and integrase inhibitors block HIV’s entry into CD4 cells.

HIV medications can have side-effects like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abnormal heartbeats, skin rashes breathlessness, and weak bones.

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