Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was first recognized as a new condition in 1981. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is an infection which can sometimes develop into AIDS. It is most commonly passed on by sexual contact. The virus attacks the infection fighting cells of the immune system which, over time, weakens and becomes unable to defend the body against bacteria, viruses and germs.
What is HIV?
HIV is a virus. Viruses infect the cells of living organisms and replicate (make new copies of themselves) within those cells. A virus can also damage human cells, which is one of the things that can make an infected creature become ill.
People can become infected with HIV from other people who already have it, and when they are infected they can then go on to infect other people. Basically, this is how HIV is spread.
HIV stands for the ‘Human Immunodeficiency Virus‘. Someone who is diagnosed as infected with HIV is said to be ‘HIV+’ or ‘HIV positive’.
What is AIDS?
A damaged immune system is not only more vulnerable to HIV, but also to the attacks of other infections. It won’t always have the strength to fight off things that wouldn’t have bothered it before.
As time goes by, a person who has been infected with HIV is likely to become ill more and more often until, usually several years after infection, they become ill with one of a number of particularly severe illnesses. It is at this point that they are said to have AIDS – when they first become seriously ill, or when the number of immune system cells left in their body drops below a particular point. Different countries have slightly different ways of defining the point at which a person is said to have AIDS rather than HIV.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is an extremely serious condition, and at this stage the body has very little defence against any sort of infection.
How long does HIV take to become AIDS?
Without drug treatment, HIV infection usually progresses to AIDS in an average of ten years. This average, though, is based on a person having a reasonable diet. Someone who is malnourished may well progress to AIDS and death more rapidly.
Antiretroviral medication can prolong the time between HIV infection and the onset of AIDS. Modern combination therapy is highly effective and, theoretically, someone with HIV can live for a long time before it becomes AIDS. These medicines, however, are not widely available in many poor countries around the world, and millions of people who cannot access medication continue to die.
How can you acquire HIV – AIDS?
- Unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person Sexual intercourse without a condom is risky, because the virus, which is present in an infected person’s sexual fluids, can pass directly into the body of their partner. This is true for unprotected vaginal and anal sex. Oral sex carries a lower risk, but again HIV transmission can occur here if a condom is not used – for example, if one partner has bleeding gums or an open cut, however small, in their mouth.
- Contact with an infected person’s blood If sufficient blood from an infected person enters someone else’s body then it can pass on the virus.
- From mother to child HIV can be transmitted from an infected woman to her baby during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding. There are special drugs that can greatly reduce the chances of this happening, but they are unavailable in much of the developing world.
- Use of infected blood products Many people in the past have been infected with HIV by the use of blood transfusions and blood products which were contaminated with the virus – in hospitals, for example. In much of the world this is no longer a significant risk, as blood donations are routinely tested.
- Injecting drugs People who use injected drugs are also vulnerable to HIV infection. In many parts of the world, often because it is illegal to possess them, injecting equipment or works are shared. A tiny amount of blood can transmit HIV, and can be injected directly into the bloodstream with the drugs.
You can not be infected with HIV – AIDS through:
- sharing crockery and cutlery
- insect / animal bites
- touching, hugging or shaking hands
- eating food prepared by someone with HIV
- toilet seats
What will you feel when you have HIV-AIDS?
Many people do not develop symptoms after getting infected with HIV. Some people have a flu-like illness within several days to weeks after exposure to the virus. They complain of fever, headache, tiredness, and enlarged lymph glands in the neck. These symptoms usually disappear on their own within a few weeks.
- Following initial infection, you may have no symptoms. The progression of disease varies widely among individuals. This state may last from a few months to more than 10 years.
- During this period, the virus continues to multiply actively and infects and kills the cells of the immune system. The immune system allows us to fight against the bacteria, viruses, and other infectious causes.
- The virus destroys the cells that are the primary infection fighters, called CD4+ or T4 cells.
- Once the immune system weakens, a person infected with HIV can develop the following symptoms:
- Lack of energy
- Weight loss
- Frequent fevers and sweats
- Persistent or frequent yeast infections
- Persistent skin rashes or flaky skin
- Short-term memory loss
- Mouth, genital, or anal sores from herpes infections.
- AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. The definition of AIDS includes all HIV-infected people who have fewer than 200 CD4+ cells per microliter of blood. The definition also includes 26 conditions that are common in advanced HIV disease but that rarely occur in healthy people. Most of these conditions are infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and other organisms. Opportunistic infections are common in people with AIDS. Nearly every organ system is affected. Some of the common symptoms include the following:
- Cough and shortness of breath
- Seizures and lack of coordination
- Difficult or painful swallowing
- Mental symptoms such as confusion and forgetfulness
- Severe and persistent diarrhea
- Vision loss
- Nausea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting
- Weight loss and extreme fatigue
- Severe headaches with neck stiffness
- People with AIDS are prone to develop various cancers such as Kaposi sarcoma, cervical cancer, and cancers of the immune system known as lymphomas. Kaposi sarcoma causes round, brown, reddish or purple spots that develop in the skin or in the mouth. After the diagnosis of AIDS is made, the average survival time has been estimated to be 2-3 years.
What are the tests that can detect HIV?
HIV tests are designed to detect antibodies to the HIV virus or the HIV virus itself.
The antibody tests are:
- ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) — a screening test used to detect infection with HIV. If positive, the ELISA test is usually repeated.
- Western blot — a test usually used to confirm the results of an ELISA. It can rule out a false-positive by distinguishing HIV antibodies from other antibodies that may react to the ELISA.
- IFA (indirect fluorescent antibody) — a test used like the less expensive Western blot to confirm the results of an ELISA.
The premiere test that can identifies the genetic material, the RNA, of the HIV virus is called PCR (the polymerase chain reaction). PCR can detect an early HIV infection before antibodies are evident and determine whether a baby born to an HIV-positive mother will have HIV. A test similar to PCR testing, called the branched DNA test, also detects the RNA of HIV.
How can you prevent yourself from getting infected with HIV – AIDS?
The following measures can help keep you from being infected with HIV:
- Educate yourself and others. Make sure you understand what HIV is and how the virus is transmitted. Just as important, teach your children about HIV.
- Know the HIV status of any sexual partner. Don’t engage in unprotected sex unless you’re absolutely certain your partner isn’t infected with HIV.
- Use a new latex or polyurethane condom every time you have sex. If you don’t know the HIV status of your partner, use a new latex condom every time you have anal or vaginal sex. If you’re allergic to latex, use a plastic (polyurethane) condom. Avoid lambskin condoms — they do not protect you from HIV. If you don’t have a male condom, use a female condom. Use only water-based lubricants, not petroleum jelly, cold cream or oils. Oil-based lubricants can weaken condoms and cause them to break. During oral sex use a condom,dental dam — a piece of medical-grade latex —or plastic wrap. Remember that although condoms can reduce your risk of contracting HIV, they don’t eliminate the risk entirely. Condoms can break or develop small tears, and they may not always be used properly.
- Consider male circumcision. A large study in 2006 by the National Institutes of Health showed that medically performed circumcision significantly reduced a man’s risk of acquiring HIV through heterosexual intercourse. The study, conducted in Kenya, showed a 53 percent reduction of HIV infection in circumcised HIV-negative men compared with uncircumcised men in the study. The outcome was heralded by the NIH as good news not only because it reduced the number of HIV-infected men, but also because it could lead to fewer infections among women in areas of the world where HIV is spread primarily through heterosexual intercourse.
- Use a clean needle. If you use a needle to inject drugs, make sure it’s sterile, and don’t share it. Take advantage of needle exchange programs in your community and consider seeking help for your drug use.
- Be cautious about blood products in certain countries. Although the blood supply in the United States is now well screened, this isn’t always the case in other countries. If an emergency requires that you receive blood or blood products in another country, get tested for HIV as soon as you return home.
- Get regular screening tests. If you are a woman, have a yearly Pap test. Men and women who engage in anal sex should also have regular tests for anal cancer.
- Don’t become complacent. Because potent antiretroviral medications have reduced the number of AIDS deaths in the United States, you may think that HIV infection is no longer a problem. But HIV/AIDS is still a terminal illness for which there is no vaccine and no cure. Right now, the only way to stay healthy is to protect yourself and others from infection.
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