HIV Infection (AIDS)- A Silent Killer

Talking about the sexually transmitted diseases, one name that many of us hear is HIV or AIDS. It is a disease, which can target anyone who is in sexual contact with a patient of HIV.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is not the disease but the causative agent of this disease. AIDS is the abbreviation of acquired immune deficiency syndrome which is the disease caused by HIV virus.

AIDS is the most severe form when the body is infected with HIV infection. This virus attacks the CD4 cells and weakens the immune system. It makes it nearly impossible for the body to defend itself against a potential threat.

Here are more details on the disease and the virus that you should know.

What are the signs and symptoms of HIV infection?

For most of the people, there are absolutely no signs and symptoms of it. At earliest stages, it is asymptomatic. The signs start to show up after one or two months of getting infected. It tells that you won’t be able to know it at the start.

The body’s natural immune system reacts to the virus and tries to suppress it. The virus is so strong that hardly the immune system affects it. It multiplies and overcomes the body in a few weeks.

The early stage infection is acute level. The symptoms are not defined and it looks like that you have flu and fever but in reality, it’s a lot more than that. At this stage, a screening test will give you a false negative test.

The body takes time to show the symptoms but it doesn’t mean that you are not infected. At this level, there are not enough antibodies which can be detected in the blood for the test to be positive. But the virus at this stage is hyperactive and growing.

The later stage, at which the virus is diagnosed, is called clinical stage. It is a chronic level, which doesn’t have a fix time period. It can be a few months to few years. The production of virus is stabilized during this phase.

Symptoms start to show up at this stage. Some of these symptoms include the following.

  • An inflammation in lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Rashes on skin
  • Shingles
  • Secondary infections

It is not necessary that all of these will show up together. You may experience any one or a few of these. For some people, there are absolutely no symptoms. Also, these symptoms can come and go, they aren’t everlasting.

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How can you diagnose an HIV infection?

There are several diagnostic tests to check the HIV infection. For example, your doctor may suggest you any of the following.

  • Antibody testing

It is the most common test, which can tell an accurate result. The only complication is that it is only detectable after at least 3 weeks of infection. If you try to perform it on early days, it would not show the prevailing infection.

This test can be either performed on blood or saliva. It takes only 30 minutes or less to diagnose it. There are kits available which make the performance of this test even easier.

  • Antibody/antigen test

The diagnostic test can also be performed on the virus through antigen detection. It shows that the body’s immune system is activated against it. Like antibody test, antigen test is also detectable only after 2-3 weeks of getting the infection.

  • Nucleic acid test (NAT)

It is a rather expensive and less common test, which usually no one recommends for diagnosing HIV infection. You may not commonly see it.

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What causes an HIV infection?

HIV or human immunodeficiency virus is the causative agent of HIV infection; its later stage is called AIDS. The virus attacks and enters the body and attack on the T cells which are a part of immune system.

These T cells kill the unwanted alien particles, which try to invade the body. Once they are under control, the virus spreads like anything. The transmission of HIV is through the body fluids only. They include

  • Blood
  • Vaginal fluid
  • Rectal fluid
  • Semen
  • Breast milk

Once you get the infection, the acute stage starts. It is the time when the virus is rapidly reproducing and invading your body parts. The immune system is activated and it makes the HIV antibodies, which are now detectable.

After this, a rather slow phase called latent phase starts. It can be slow or fast depending upon your body’s responses. It may or may not show symptoms at this stage.

As the infection proceeds, the T cells inside the body are reduced. It will make your immunity weaker and you will be more susceptible to secondary infections, which will make your immunity even lower.

HIV itself is not a disease but a condition, which degrades your body from inside. Unfortunately, it has no cure. You can only pass the time and make the symptoms well but it won’t kill the virus.

Is HIV infection and AIDS the same thing?

AIDS or acquired immune deficiency syndrome is a condition caused by HIV. It is an advanced and severe form of HIV infection, which is lethal. It is not necessary that all HIV infections will turn into AIDS.

Not all HIV infections are AIDS but all AIDS infections start from HIV infection. HIV attacks and kills T cells, which are called CD4, and CD8 cells, which are natural fighters against the pathogens.

Once their quantity starts to decline, the body becomes weaker. The immunity status becomes poor and the body is severely affected even from a minor secondary infection.

It the HIV infection makes your T cells count low than 200 per cubic millimeter, you are more likely to be diagnosed with AIDS. An HIV infection along with a secondary infection majorly opportunistic can also shape into AIDS.

As the infection prevails, the body becomes helpless. It is no longer able to fight against the infections and pathogens. It is the high time that it is susceptible to all possible infections. The most frequent of which are as follows.

  • Tuberculosis
  • Candidiasis
  • Pneumonia
  • Cancer
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Kidney problems
  • Cryptococcal meningitis

An untreated HIV infection may take years to develop in AIDS. There are specific medicines which can help the HIV infection is not to change into AIDS.

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Is there any treatment for HIV?

There is no cure if the HIV infection is diagnosed at an extreme stage. The treatment of HIV infection should start right away as the doctor diagnoses it.

For HIV, the major treatment to help is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. It is a combination of some day-to-day medicines, which help the virus to stop growing more. It tries to protect the T cells in this way that virus is no more in growing phase.

It also makes sure that the body doesn’t enter a stage where this HIV infection will turn into AIDS. The doctor will suggest the plan as per your requirement and choice.

There can be some possible side effects of these medicines too. You may feel a headache or dizziness. The serious side effects may be damage to liver and tongue. The HIV infection turns worst if the people develop resistance to the virus.

Not just the medicines, the doctor will ask you to take care of your diet, make a healthy lifestyle and do proper rest. All these things combined will help you to feel better.

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How to prevent HIV infection?

There is no vaccine available for HIV. You can prevent the risk of HIV infection by following ways.

  • Get a screening test.
  • Make a record of your medical history especially the STDs.
  • Practice safe sex techniques.
  • Limit your sexual partners.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle

Sources

  • https://www.avert.org/about-hiv-aids/what-hiv-aids
  • https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/whatishiv.html
  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hiv-and-aids/
  • https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv-aids/fact-sheets/19/45/hiv-aids–the-basics

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