AIDS- Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

What is HIV?

HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that reproduces itself by taking over a cell in the body of its host. HIV is a deadly virus which damages the immune system of a person completely. The immune system helps the body fight diseases and infections. HIV affects the CD-4 cells, which are a type of immune cell inside a person's body.

What is AIDS?

AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. A person infected with HIV is diagnosed with AIDS when he or she has one or more opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis, and has a dangerously low number of CD4+ T cells (less than 200 cells per cubic millimetre of blood).

Transmission of HIV

HIV is mostly transmitted via semen, blood, breast milk and vaginal fluids of an infected person. Some of the ways by which HIV can spread from person to person are:

  • Unprotected contact with partner 
  • Sharing needles, syringes and other items while injecting drugs
  • From mother to baby at the time of delivery and childbirth
  • Blood transfusion and organ transplantation are also possible causes of HIV transmission. However, due to improved and advanced screening procedure HIV is rarely spread by this mean
  • Breastfeeding the child if the mother is infected

How HIV causes AIDS?

When HIV virus enters the body, it starts to destroy CD4 (Cluster of differentiation 4) T cells. CD4 cell is responsible for the efficient working of the human immune system. Therefore when HIV infects this cell, the immune system becomes weak and is not able to fight with the diseases efficiently. As a result, a person develops AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).

In some of the cases, people are HIV infected much before the onset of any serious symptom. Over the time level of HIV infection increases in blood, this directly decreases the CD4+ T cells.

Early Symptoms

In the initial stages of HIV infection, most people experience very few symptoms. Within a month or two after infection, individuals may experience other symptoms including:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and groin area

These symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for another viral infection, such as flu. However, during this period people are highly infectious because HIV is present in large quantities in genital fluids and blood. Some people infected with HIV may experience more severe symptoms initially or a longer duration of clinical symptoms, while others may remain symptom-free for 10 years or more.

Later Symptoms

During the late stages, HIV infection leads to AIDS. The virus severely weakens the immune system, and people infected with the virus may experience the following symptoms:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
  • Extreme and unexplained fatigue
  • Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
  • Diarrhoea that lasts for more than a week
  • Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
  • Pneumonia
  • Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
  • Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders

You must get yourself tested if you experience most of the symptoms mentioned above.

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent HIV infection nor is there a cure for HIV/AIDS. Only a few drugs are available to control the virus. Therapy like ART is used.

ART- The Antiretroviral therapy or ART was introduced in 1996 and is widely considered as an option to prevent HIV patients from dying early. ART has dramatically improved the quality of life of the people suffering from it. If an HIV positive partner is on ART, it significantly reduces the chances of transmission to the HIV negative partner.

When to start the treatment?

Everyone suffering from HIV infection should be given antiviral medications. The treatment becomes very important in the following situations:

  • When you notice severe symptoms
  • Your CD4 T cell count is very low
  • If you are pregnant
  • You are experiencing kidney diseases

To reduce your risk of becoming infected with HIV or transmitting the virus to others, you can follow steps like:

  • Get tested regularly for HIV.
  • Make sure that you use new needle while using intravenous drugs.
  • If you are planning to get pregnant then make sure that both the partners are tested for HIV before and during pregnancy.
  • Pregnant women must get checked for HIV and if they discover positive results then take every measure to protect baby from the deadly virus. This can be done by taking antiretroviral drug and opting for C-section delivery. 
  • Take prescribed antiviral medications to reduce the chance of transferring HIV infected blood to the baby.

Many researches have been conducted as an attempt to create a vaccination for HIV. But there is no vaccine to prevent HIV infection.

Antiretroviral medicines can reduce the level of HIV virus present in the body. Furthermore, it also helps to slow the destruction of the immune system by preserving CD4+ T cells.

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