HUMAN IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS (HIV)

ACQUIRED IMMUNE DEFICIENCY SYNDROME (AIDS)

HIV is a viral infection that attacks the body's immune system. It kills all the disease fighting cells in the body and makes a person very vulnerable to all the diseases and infections. HIV is  a retrovirus, which means that unlike other viruses it cannot reproduce on its own. HIV virus attaches itself to the DNA of T-cells of the infected person and then copies its RNA (by converting it into DNA) into the cells of the infected person. T-cells are the immunity cells and protect an individual against any disease/infection. After the T-cells convert into HIV DNA cells, they keep producing more HIV cells into the blood.

After the immune system gets severely damaged by HIV, the body becomes prey to multiple infections and diseases which are eventually fatal. This stage of the disease is referred to AIDS. Important point to note is that while HIV is highly transmittable from one person to another, AIDS cannot be transmitted.

This is a non-curable disease.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Stages of HIV Infection

 

HIV infection spreads through four stages after the virus enters the body.

Stage 1: Primary Infection

  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and generalised weakness start to develop within 2-6 weeks after you have caught the virus

  • The disease continues to spread to the lymph nodes and starts attacking a specific white blood cell in the blood known as T Lymphocytes/T cells (usually 1000 to 2750 T cells are present per cubic millimetre of blood) 

  • T cells build the immune system and they multiply drastically whenever the body is attacked by any infection/disease

  • In this stage, the normal immune response kicks in and the antibodies (T cells) in the blood start multiplying. Within a few weeks, the symptoms subside. The symptoms might not show again for many years until the disease has advanced further

Stage 2: Early Immune Deficiency

  • This is the asymptomatic phase i.e. even infected people will not display any symptoms of the disease

  • During this stage, the T lymphocyte count falls down to 500 cells/ml

Stage 3: Intermediate Immune deficiency

  • In this stage, the virus multiplies rapidly and as a result of that, symptoms of the disease begin to appear

  • The lymphocyte count falls down to about 200 to 500cells/ml

Stage 4: Advanced Immune deficiency

  • This is the stage when the multiplication of the virus is at full capacity and the symptoms of the infection begin to appear rampantly 

  • The lymphocyte count is less than 200 cells/ml 

  • The immune system of the individual is almost non functional and he/she starts getting symptoms of infections due to weaker pathogens. These infections are known as opportunistic infections

  • It is in this stage that we call HIV infections an immunodeficiency disease, and hence, the name AIDS is attributed to the syndrome

  • These symptoms develop after about 6-12 years of infection

HIV/AIDS symtoms, treatment and prevention

Symptoms of HIV Infection

HIV can cause a wide range of symptoms:

  • Anorexia (severe weight loss)

  • Swelling of the lymph nodes

  • Candidiasis (yeast infection in AIDS patients)

  • Whitish fungi in oral cavity (symptom of candidiasis)

  • Vaginal infections 

  • Pulmonary Tuberculosis in most AIDS patients 

  • Sore throat 

  • Generalised weakness 

Common Cancers caused due to HIV Infection

The HIV infected person is at high risk to develop these cancers

  • Kaposi Sarcoma- Cancer of soft tissues of lymph nodes, skin, internal organs

  • Cervical Cancer in women

  • Lymphomas - Cancer of the cells involved in the Immune System 

Transmission of the HIV Infection

The biological means of spread of the virus occurs through direct contact with: 

  • Infected tissue of the infected individual 

  • Bodily fluids like blood, vaginal secretions, semen and  breast milk (in case of infants) 

  • Through the placenta

  • Sharing needles/syringes with infected person

  • Unprotected sex with infected person

  • Irresponsible blood transfusions with infected people

  • Contact with infected tissue through open wounds and cuts

  • Colostrum/breast milk from the mother to the child

However, there is a very rampant air of confusion around the interaction with HIV infected individuals. This has led to the creation of social stigma around infected individuals.  So, some myths about this disease need to be cleared out:

  • HIV does not spread through hugging or touching the infected individual

  • Sharing spaces like classrooms, toilets and other things like utensils, clothing and towels does not lead to spread of HIV

  • Masturbation does not spread HIV. Same applies to swimming 

  • In work environments, sharing desks and lunches and rooms does not lead to the spread of HIV

  • HIV is not a disease which only exists due to same-sex intercourse

  • If you engage in same-sex intercourse, you will not get an HIV infection until any needle sharing has been done or unprotected sex has been performed

     

Precautions to take for HIV Protection

  • Refrain from engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse with multiple partners

  • In case of an infected partner, refrain from frequent intercourse. Sexual acts like assisted masturbation with sex toys can be encouraged for pleasure

  • Make sure that the infected person does not have cuts or open wounds on their body if utensils, clothes are being shared

  • If the infected person is bleeding from their oral cavity, refrain from salivary exchange and sharing utensils or food

  • Do not perform oral sex, especially with multiple partners, without the use of a condom

  • Do not perform anal sex without the use of a condom

Treatment for HIV Infection

HIV Infection is non-curable but if it's identified at an earlier stage and proper care and medication is taken, a person can still live a normal and healthy life.

The medicines used in treatment are generally antiretroviral medicines. Doctors have to use a combination of medicines. Otherwise the HIV virus mutates and becomes immune to the treatment.

To lead a healthy life, following care needs to be taken:

  • Take flu-shots every year to avoid infections as much possible

  • Consume a healthy and balanced diet

  • Exercise every day

  • If you contract any disease, go to a doctor immediately and take proper treatment

  • Refrain from smoking