HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases.
If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).
There is currently no effective cure. Once people get HIV, they have it for life.
But with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. People with HIV who get effective HIV treatment can live long, healthy lives and protect their partners.
How is it transmitted?
HIV is a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI).
It is transmitted by contact with certain bodily fluids of a person with HIV, most commonly during unprotected sex (sex without a condom or HIV medicine to prevent or treat HIV), or through sharing injection drug equipment or sharing needles.
It also spreads from Infected Mother to Child during Pregnancy, Childbirth, and breastfeeding.
It can also be transmitted through unscreened blood transfusion.
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Symptoms of HIV
The symptoms of HIV and AIDS vary, depending on the phase of infection.
Some people infected by HIV develop a flu-like illness within 2 to 4 weeks after the virus enters the body. This illness, known as Primary (acute) HIV infection, may last for a few weeks.
Possible Signs and Symptoms include:
– Muscle aches and joint pain
– Sore throat and painful mouth sores
– Swollen lymph glands, mainly on the neck
– Weight loss
Clinical latent infection (Chronic HIV)
In this stage of infection, HIV is still present in the body and in white blood cells. However, many people may not have any symptoms or infections during this time.
This stage can last for many years if you’re receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART). Some people develop more severe diseases much sooner.
Symptomatic HIV infection
As the virus continues to multiply and destroy your immune cells — the cells in your body that help fight off germs — you may develop mild infections or chronic signs and symptoms such as:
-Swollen lymph nodes — often one of the first signs of HIV infection
-Oral yeast infection (thrush)
-Shingles (herpes zoster)
Whether a person has symptoms or not, during this period their viral load is very high. The viral load is the amount of HIV found in the bloodstream.
A high viral load means that HIV can be easily transmitted to someone else during this time.
How do I know if I’m infected?
The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. Knowing your HIV status helps you make healthy decisions to prevent getting or transmitting HIV.
Treatment should begin as soon as possible after a diagnosis of HIV, regardless of viral load.
The main treatment for HIV is Antiretroviral therapy, a combination of daily medications that stop the virus from reproducing. This helps protect CD4 cells, keeping the immune system strong enough to take measures against the disease.
Antiretroviral therapy helps keep HIV from progressing to AIDS. It also helps reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others.
When treatment is effective, the viral load will be “undetectable.” The person still has HIV, but the virus is not visible in the test results.
However, the virus is still in the body. And if that person stops taking Antiretroviral Therapy, the viral load will increase again, and the HIV can again start attacking CD4 cells.
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In addition, there are effective methods to prevent getting HIV through sex or drug use, including Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), the medicine people at risk for HIV take to prevent getting HIV from sex or injection drug use, and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), HIV medicine taken within 72 hours after a possible exposure to prevent the virus from taking hold
Some terms related to HIV
Substances in the blood or other body fluids destroy bacteria, viruses, or other harmful agents (antigens). They are members of a class of proteins known as immunoglobulins, which are produced by special white blood cells called B-lymphocytes.
A substance that, when introduced into the body, stimulates the production of an antibody.
A substance that kills or suppresses a retrovirus, such as HIV.
4. Antiretroviral drugs
Substances are used to kill or stop the multiplication of retroviruses such as HIV.
5. Antiretroviral therapy (ART)
Combination of antiretroviral regimens that aggressively decrease HIV viral multiplication to halt the progress of HIV disease. The usual ART regimen combines three or more different drugs. These treatment regimens can reduce the amount of virus so that it becomes undetectable in a patient’s blood.
A substance or process that destroys a virus or suppresses its replication (ie, reproduction).
7. Asymptomatic HIV
After the acute/primary infection phase, most people with HIV feel well and have no particular symptoms of HIV. This phase typically lasts for a number of years, though that can vary from person to person. During this phase, HIV remains present in the body and, typically, slowly weakens the immune system although a person may not feel that anything is wrong.
8. Symptomatic HIV
The longer HIV remains untreated, the more likely a person is to begin experiencing symptoms caused by HIV. Some people have diarrhea, headaches, skin conditions, swollen lymph glands, unusual or prolonged infections or may begin to have trouble with fatigue and weight loss. Untreated HIV also increases the risk of heart disease, some cancers, and other illnesses over time.
9. CD4 Count (a.k.a. T-Cell Count)
A lab test that measures the number of CD4 cells in a microliter of blood. A CD4 count provides a general idea of how healthy a person’s immune system is. CD4 cells are a type of white blood cell and are a part of a person’s immune system; they play an important role in fighting off infections. The higher a person’s CD4 count is, the healthier their immune system is. Because HIV kills CD4 cells, people living with HIV tend to see their CD4 count decrease over time; however, when a person is on HIV medications and their Viral Load is “undetectable,” CD4 counts can remain stable or even increase over time.
When a person’s CD4 count drops below 200 cells per microliter, their immune system has been seriously damaged and they are more likely to get certain infections.
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10. Viral Load (VL)
A lab test that measures how much HIV is present in a blood sample. A “normal” VL result for an HIV-positive person not yet on HIV medications can vary a lot from person to person. A higher Viral Load (VL) result means that there is more HIV present in the body, harming the immune system. A lower VL result means that there is less HIV is present in the body, which reduces damage to the immune system. When a person starts HIV medications, their VL should decrease so much that their VL can become “undetectable” (see “undetectable,” below).
“Undetectable” – having an undetectable Viral Load (VL) means that there is so little HIV virus in a blood sample that it cannot be detected by a standard test for the virus. When someone is “undetectable,” that means that HIV is not actively reproducing in the body or actively doing damage to the immune system. It also means that it is unlikely that the person can pass HIV on to someone else through sex or from mother to child. It does NOT mean that the person is cured of HIV. If a person who is “undetectable” stops taking their HIV medications, their VL will normally begin to increase within days to weeks of stopping.
11. Opportunistic Infections (a.k.a. OIs)
Certain infections are much more common in people who have weak immune systems. Examples of OIs that are seen in people living with AIDS include thrush (yeast infection in the mouth or throat), certain types of pneumonia, herpes sores that do not go away, and Tuberculosis, among many others. In addition, there are other “AIDS Defining Illnesses,” including cancers that are more common in people with AIDS (such as Kaposi’s Sarcoma, lymphoma, and invasive cervical cancer).
A set of negative and unfair beliefs that society or a group of people have about something. People living with HIV today can suppress HIV with medications and live a long, healthy life; however, there is still widespread fear of HIV and poor understanding about how it can and cannot be spread, who can be affected by HIV, and what an HIV diagnosis means. Examples of HIV stigma include an HIV-positive person feeling shame about their HIV diagnosis; an HIV-positive person losing work, friendships, or romantic relationships when others find out about their HIV status; or the belief that having HIV means that a person is dying. Unfortunately, many people living with HIV still face discrimination or personal hardship because of HIV stigma. Stigma about HIV can make it very difficult for some people to tell others about their HIV diagnosis. For others, HIV stigma can make it difficult to even seek out an HIV test.
Note:- Avoid Stigmatization
To be continued…