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Understand HIV/AIDS

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Jan 29, 2013
4.8 / 5(4 Ratings)

What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV is one of the group of viruses known as retroviruses. After getting into the body, the virus kills or damages the CD4 cells which the immune system uses to protect us from illnesses. The body tries to keep up by making new cells or trying to contain the virus, but eventually the virus overpowers the defences of the immune system and progressively destroys the body's ability to fight infections.


When the immune system does not work properly, the patient can develop serious, often deadly, infections known as opportunistic infections (OIs). Death is often caused by OIs or other long-term effects of HIV.

How is HIV transmitted?


HIV is transmitted when body fluids (such as blood, semen, vsaginal secretions and breast milk) of an infected person come in contact with a healthy person’s tissues such as those lining the vagina, anal area, mouth, or eyes (the mucus membranes), or with a break in the skin, such as from a cut or puncture by a needle.

The most common ways in which HIV spreads include—

  • through unprotected sexual intercourse.
  • through transfusions of blood or blood products.
  • by sharing contaminated needles to inject drugs, steroids or for tattooing.
  • from the mother to child at birth.
  • during breastfeeding.


The truth about transmission

You cannot get HIV or AIDS—

  • by hugging, or holding hands.
  • through sneezes or coughs or by sitting besides an HIV/AIDS infected person.
  • from insect and mosquito bites.


Who can contract HIV?

It is estimated that about 21% of HIV-positive people do not know that they have contracted the disease. This is because people look and feel healthy and do not think they are at risk. But the truth is that anyone, irrespective of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or social or economic class, can contract HIV.

What are the symptoms of HIV?

While our immune system can fight off most viruses out of our body, it cannot get rid of human immunodeficiency virus. A person with HIV can live for many years with no signs of disease because the symptoms are mild and most people dismiss it as a cold or flu. But without treatment, HIV will eventually wear down the immune system. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the final stage of HIV infection.

Symptoms of HIV infection can include:

  • Fever
  • Swollen gland
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Painful muscles and joints
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Ulcers


How to prevent the spread of HIV?

  • The most common way of transmission of HIV is through sexual contact. The best way to avoid sexual transmission is by engaging oneself in a monogamous relationship where both partners are certain that they are not HIV-infected.
  • HIV also spreads by sharing needles for injecting medicines, illegal drugs, steroids, tattooing, and body piercing. To prevent the spread of HIV, needles should never be shared.
  • The risk of acquiring HIV through blood transfusions can be prevented by screening the blood for both antibodies to HIV and the actual virus before transfusion.
  • An HIV-infected mother can transmit the infection to her baby before birth, during birth or from breastfeeding. Doctors can usually prevent the spread of the virus from mother to baby if they know that an expectant mother has HIV.

 
How to get tested for HIV?

When a person gets infected by HIV, his/her immune system makes antibodies against the disease. To get an accurate result, it's necessary to wait for about three to six months after their last potential exposure to HIV. That is because the immune system can take up to eight weeks to make antibodies.

Following tests can confirm the presence or absence of HIV:

  • The HIV antibody test (called ELISA or EIA) looks for these antibodies in the blood. If a person tests positive for the presence of antibodies, it is confirmed by another test called a Western Blot.
  • The RNA test detects the virus directly. The RNA test can give results very early in HIV infection.


What is the cure for HIV?

There is no known cure for HIV and AIDS. However, medications are now available that interfere with the virus's ability to reproduce. It helps the immune system to stay healthy and fight infection. But, these medications cannot rid the body entirely of HIV.

Since there are no medications or vaccines to prevent HIV infection, the best way to prevent it is by using sterile needles and practicing safe sex. After all, prevention is better than cure.

 

 

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