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HIV or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus is responsible for causing AIDS or Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome, a dreaded, potentially life-threatening, and chronic disease. This virus interferes with the body’s fighting ability to counter disease and infection. HIV is often sexually transmitted. People also get infected with this disease when it passes from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, the birth of a child, or breastfeeding. It also spreads when a person receives infected blood. As soon as HIV is detected, it is recommended to start medication, without which the immune system gets weakened to the extent that the person gets infected with HIV AIDS. Medications can help slow down the progress of the disease.

HIV Symptoms That One Should Know About

Depending on the infection phase, there is a marked variation in the symptoms of HIV and AIDS. Here are the symptoms that must be seen as warning signs.

Acute HIV or Primary Infection

Initially, HIV symptoms may appear as a flu-like illness. Such symptoms are visible within 2-4 weeks after the virus attacks the body. It is referred to as acute or primary HIV infection, and symptoms may last for a few weeks. These possible signs of infection are:

  • · Headache
  • · Fever
  • · Rash
  • · Joint pain and muscle aches
  • · Swelling in lymph nodes
  • · Painful mouth sores and sore throat
  • · Weight loss
  • · Diarrhea
  • · Night sweats
  • · Cough

Although these are mild symptoms, the viral load in the bloodstream is quite high. At this time, the infection spreads fast, moving on to the next stage.

Chronic HIV or Clinical Latent Infection

During this stage of infection, HIV infection is present in the WBC of the patient, but they may not show any symptoms. If a patient fails to receive antiretroviral therapy, this stage may last for several years.

HIV Infection (Symptomatic)

The virus is already present in the bloodstream, multiplying and destroying immune cells responsible for fighting off infection in the body. At this stage, the patient may develop chronic symptoms, such as:

  • · Fatigue
  • · Fever
  • · Diarrhea
  • · Swollen lymph nodes
  • · Weight loss
  • · Shingles
  • · Thrush
  • · Pneumonia

HIV Treatment for Quick Control of Symptoms

It is prudent to note that HIV/AIDS has no cure. Once the person is infected, the infection stays in their body. The best that can be done in medical terms is using medications to control the spread of HIV and complications arising because of its spread. These medications are referred to as ART or antiretroviral therapy. As soon as a person is diagnosed with HIV, doctors immediately start them on ART, irrespective of infection stage or resultant complications.

What Is Antiretroviral Therapy?

Antiretroviral Therapy or ART combines three or more medications sourced from diverse drug classes. This therapy aims at lowering the HIV viral load in the blood. Various ART alternatives are available, and doctors use them to combine three medicines in one pill, which is taken once daily.

Here, it is important to understand that virus is blocked by each class of drugs differently. These drug combinations work efficiently. It helps avoid the development of drug-resistant strains of HIV, considers viral genotype, and increases virus suppression in blood.

Anti-HIV Drug Classes 

Anti-HIV drug classes include:

· Nucleotide or nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors

· Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors

· Protease inhibitors

· Integrase inhibitors

· Fusion or entry inhibitors

HIV/AIDS Causes

HIV is a virus infection. It spreads through blood or sexual contact and passes on from mother to child during the gestation period, the birth of the child, or breastfeeding.

HIV paving the way for AIDS: How?

HIV acts by destroying CD4 T cells. These are white blood cells, playing a vital role in preparing the body to fight viruses, bacteria, and other infections. If the number of CD4 T cells is few in the body, the immune system becomes weaker. If a patient has an HIV infection, with or without symptoms, it turns into AIDS in a few years. It gets diagnosed when the cell count of CD4 T falls below 200 or the occurrence of an AIDS complication, cancer, or a serious infection.

Spread of HIV

HIV spreads when the infection spreads through semen, infected blood, or vaginal secretions that enter the body. It happens in different ways.

·        Unsafe Sex– A person may get infected with HIV by engaging in unsafe oral, anal, and vaginal sex with an infected partner with vaginal secretions, semen, and blood entering the body. The virus may also enter through small tears or sores developing in the vagina or rectum during sexual activity.

·         Infected Needles- Using infected or contaminated needles is also one of the causes behind HIV infection and its spread. It is thus very important to use disposable syringes and needles every time. Failing to do so puts the person at high HIV risk and another disease like hepatitis.

·        Blood Transfusion. If infected blood is transfused, it can transmit the virus. It has thus become compulsory in many countries to screen blood for HIV antibodies before it is used for a patient.

·        Pregnancy. Infection may also spread to the child from the mother during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. Thus, HIV-infected mothers must get treated for the infection to lower the risk to their babies. 

It is important to note that HIV infection doesn’t spread through ordinary contact.

Common Infections Faced by HIV-Infected People

HIV or AIDS-infected people are prone to catching other infections as their immunity is low, which puts them at risk. Here are some common infections that can manifest in them.

·        PCP or Pneumocystis pneumonia. It is a fungal infection that can result in serious illness. If a patient is taking the latest HIV treatment, the propensity of this infection occurring in them reduces significantly.

·        Thrush or Candidiasis. It is again a very commonly occurring HIV-related infection. It develops a thick, white coating on the tongue, mouth, vagina, and esophagus and causes inflammation.

·       TB or Tuberculosis. TB is another infection that may raise its head in HIV-infected people. Although this disease is now seen in very few nations, it is a cause of death among AIDS-infected people.

·        Cryptococcal meningitis. It is a serious inflammation of fluid and membranes surrounding the spinal cord and brain. It seriously impacts the central nervous system causing infection related to HIV.

·        Cytomegalovirus. It is a herpes virus that gets transmitted to blood, saliva, breast milk, and semen. If a person enjoys a robust immune system, this virus can be inactivated, but if the immunity is low, it can stay dormant in the body for years and suddenly resurface to cause serious harm to the digestive tract, eyes, lungs, and other organs.

·        Toxoplasmosis. Another very fatal infection can even cause death in HIV-infected people. A parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, causes it. Cats spread it through stool, and it can spread among humans and animals. It can result in seizures, heart diseases, and sometimes spreading to the brain.

Besides these infections, HIV-infected people are also prone to different types of cancers, like lymphoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, and other complications.

HIV AIDS in Men and Women: Does the Infection Affect Differently?

HIV or AIDS is a dreaded disease, and it may affect men and women. Frequently, the question comes up if these infections affect men and women differently. For the uninitiated, 25 percent of HIV-infected people in the United States of America are women, but their problems are different from infected men. Here is how it impacts women:

· Women may suffer from repeated vaginal yeast infections. Repeated infections may lower their immunity and cause them harm.

· The risk of cervical cancer is also high in HIV-infected women. The infection severity may also be high in infected women.

· Women with HIV AIDS may also face severe pelvic inflammatory diseases.

· It has also been seen that women with HIV infection face more frequent menstruation cycle problems. It can be heavy bleeding, cramps, spotting, and more.

· The risk of osteoporosis increases in infected women.

· They may enter the menopausal stage earlier than usual and face the problem of severe hot flashes.

· HIV-infected women also face more side effects of HIV medications than men.

· The risk of giving birth to an HIV-infected baby is higher.

· The medications taken for HIV may also interfere with birth control pills.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What kind of infection is HIV?

Human immunodeficiency or HIV is a viral infection that attacks the patient’s immune system.

2. Which is the major symptom of HIV?

The major symptom of HIV is swelling in the lymph nodes, especially in the neck. Other symptoms include fever, thrush, herpes, etc.

3. Can an HIV-infected mother pass on the infection to her baby?

Yes, an HIV-infected mother can pass on the infection to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. HIV-infected mothers must get treated for the infection to lower the risk to their babies.

4. Is HIV solely a sexually transmitted disease?

No, HIV can also be transmitted by infected needles, syringes, pregnancy, the spread of infected semen, saliva, blood, vaginal fluids, etc. A person may get infected with HIV by engaging in unsafe oral, anal, and vaginal sex with an infected partner with vaginal secretions, semen, and blood entering the body.

In a nutshell, HIV and AIDS are dreaded diseases, and it is better to be safe and take all steps for prevention. Despite years of research in this field, no drug can cure this disease. The medication or treatment options available in the market only help control the further spread of the disease.

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