What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV is a severe virus which destroys the immune system, hence the name – human immunodeficiency virus. AIDS is the term used when you reach the final and most severe phase of this condition.
It’s a disease transmitted through bodily fluids which means potentially anyone is at risk. However, some people are more likely to contract it than others. Those who are gay, transgender or bisexual. African American men and people who abuse drugs. (1)
Once you have been exposed to the HIV virus, it is with you for the rest of your life.
HIV/AIDS is not spread through hugging, touching or kissing an HIV-positive person. Neither does it transfer by sharing clothes, dishes or toilets.
Only certain body fluids carry the virus. To pass on infection this must come into contact with either the bloodstream or mucous membranes in the body. (2)
CDV cells are found within the immune system and their duty is to help the body fight off infection and disease. However, HIV/AIDS generates an offensive on the immune system which in-turn breaks down these crucial cells. (3)
When they are broken down, the body becomes weaker and loses its biological defense against bacteria and other infections.
As HIV progresses it will continue to break down the immune system where at the end the body can’t fight off any type of infection or harmful bacteria.
Once HIV has obliterated too many CDV cells the virus has become deadly. This phase is called AIDS.
HIV medication helps to prevent and prolong the development from the virus into full blown AIDS.
Symptoms of HIV are common to those one would experience with flu, although it does not show in physical appearance until later stages.
However, signs of the virus don’t always materialize straightaway and can actually be quite unreliable to depict. This means the disease could already be causing damage long before you realise anything is wrong.
Therefore it is important to get tested if you think there is any possibility you have been exposed to the virus.
HIV can be transmitted through unprotected sex, sharing needles or razor blades and via pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. (4)
Symptoms will also vary from person to person. Some people can have HIV for more than ten years without showing symptoms. (5)
The most common initial warning signs of HIV/AIDS include:
Many people infected with HIV develop a fever that can occur on and off. This most often happens during the first and last stage of HIV.
When AIDS has developed the immune system finds it harder to fight of high temperatures, so during this stage an extreme fever is likely to occur. (6)
A skin rash is another common symptom in HIV infections.
It will most likely appear on the torso, face, hands or feet and is identified as a raised rash which is pink or purple in color depending on the darkness of the skin.
The rash can also be caused by a reaction to HIV medication, in cases like this it’s usually nothing serious.
However, in some situations they are an indication to a hypersensitivity reaction that can be life-threatening. Therefore informing the doctor of any kind of rash development is very important. (7)
Chills are another common follower of fever as the body tries to regulate its temperature.
However in HIV infected people they can appear without fever in specific body parts such as hands or lower back.
As the immune system continues to break down, chills can occur more often and become more severe. (8)
Muscle Ache and Fatigue
By now the body finds it harder to cope with changes and is telling the brain to slow down.
This is a symptom of AIDS and should get checked immediately by a doctor. Night sweats could also indicate an early development of another disease such as tuberculosis.
There are three clearly defined stages of HIV/AIDS. Although, it is possible to prolong them with the right treatment. They are as follows:
After becoming infected the first stage occurs around 2-4 weeks afterwards. This is referred to as acute HIV-infection.
It is during this stage flu like symptoms occur as the body tries to fight off the invasion, just as it would with any other common illness.
During this stage people with HIV are highly contagious. Unfortunately many are not aware they carry the virus. This means transmission rates during this stage are high. (11)
At this stage many may not feel sick and physical symptoms might not be apparent.
If exposure to HIV infection has taken place it is vital to get tested to prevent progression and contamination of others.
During this stage the HIV infection is not as active and slows down its reproduction. This stage is called clinical latency.
Even for those not receiving treatment this stage can sometimes last up to a decade. However, everyone is different which means others will progress rather quickly. (12)
Although at this stage the symptoms slow down, the infection is still highly contagious.
This period can last for several decades providing the person infected is receiving the appropriate treatment.
During the last part of this phase the virus is starting to take over again and the breakdown of cells continues. The symptoms start to show again as the virus level increases leading towards the final stage. (13)
The latter stages of this disease is called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, better known as AIDS.
This is the most severe stage of the HIV virus where the immune system is almost non-existent and therefore can’t fight off illnesses.
The life expectancy during this stage is around 3 years without treatment. Symptoms are also very similar to those during the first stage only more severe, with an addition of weight loss. (14)
During this stage the person is highly contagious due to the extreme infection counts in the blood. (15)
There are three types of HIV/AIDS treatments. One used to prolong the stages of HIV and the other two are based upon preventative and post-exposure methods.
Antiretroviral Therapy (ART)
When testing positive for HIV, antiretroviral therapy better known as ART is prescribed.
This treatment reduces the amount of HIV infection counts in the body. This means the immune system can work more efficiently giving you a better chance to fend of any illnesses.
Although there is no cure for HIV, ART treatment can help reduce the number of infections to such a point it can’t be detected by an HIV test. (16)
Pregnant women who are HIV positive must take ART medicine in order to reduce the chance of transmitting the infection to the baby. After delivery the baby should receive the same treatment for 4-6 weeks. (17)
Pre-Exposure Treatment (PrEP)
Pre-exposure prophylaxis HIV treatment, is used by people who are more prone to the exposure of HIV infection.
It can lower risk of the virus, providing it’s taken as prescribed. However, if not taken regularly the benefits will wear off. (18)
PrEP lowers risk of HIV/AIDS infection through sex by up to 90 percent. Where needle sharing, syringes or razor blades are concerned PrEP can reduce chances by up to 70 percent.
PrEP can also be taken by women trying to conceive if her partner is HIV positive. This can help protect both the mother and baby. For obvious reasons a doctor should always be consulted beforehand. (19)
Post Exposure Treatment (PEP)
Post-exposure prophylaxis, is a treatment of antiretroviral medicines better known as PEP. This form of treatment is designed to be taken after possible exposure to HIV infection.
PEP is only an emergency treatment and in order to be successful it has to be started within 72 hours of exposure. The faster the treatment is started, the better the chances are to fight off the infection. (20)
However, it’s important to understand, PEP should not be thought of as an easy solution which can be used frequently time and time again.
What is HIV/AIDS? HIV is a transmitted immune attacking virus which breaks down the cells in the body’s immune system. As the virus progresses, the body’s ability to fight off illness diminishes completely – this is called AIDS. (21)
What are the signs of HIV/AIDS? Signs of HIV are similar to common flu symptoms, as the body is fighting the infection. Fever, rash, chills, muscle ache and fatigue are normal symptoms in the early stages. Signs of AIDS are an increasing amount of severes illnesses, with symptoms including night sweats and weight loss.
How do you develop HIV/AIDS? HIV/AIDS is transmitted by body fluids. Either through sexual intercourse, needle, syringe or razorblade sharing, which may be prevalent in drug abuse. It can also be transmitted through pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding (if the infected mother isn’t going through treatment). (22)
How are you diagnosed for HIV/AIDS? Doctors can diagnose HIV/AIDS with one of these three tests: A NAT blood test, an antigen/antibody test or an antibody test. (23)
What is the best treatment for HIV/AIDS? There are 3 types of treatment: ART, to treat the actual infection. And a pre (PrEP) and post exposure treatments (PEP) used to prevent the infection.
What are the long term complications of HIV/AIDS? Long term complications of HIV is AIDS. This is when the body’s immune system is so weak it can’t stop any infection or illness from taking hold. (24)
Is HIV/AIDS considered a disability? No it is not considered a disability. Although when the person progress further into the stages of HIV, and is therefore unable to perform daily tasks, it does become disabling. (25)
Is there a cure for HIV/AIDS? No, HIV and AIDS cannot be cured. Although treatment can help ease the symptoms and prolong life expectancy. (26)
Is HIV/AIDS life threatening? Yes without treatment HIV and AIDS are fatal. Although it can take years and decades before it progresses to end of life stages.
HIV is a virus which destroys the natural defences of the immune system. This has a detrimental effect on the body and makes the sufferer more susceptible for a vast array of illnesses and disease.
It can be transmitted through body fluids from either sexual intercourse, needle or syringe sharing. It can even be transmitted during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
However, modern research and science has developed various treatments. Although they do not provide a cure for the disease they can potentially reduce risk of contracting the virus and also prolong the lives of those who already suffer with it.
One thing is certain, if you think you have put yourself at risk for HIV/AIDS, get yourself tested as soon as possible.