- HIV is a virus. AIDS is a disease caused by HIV.
- It spreads through unprotected sex.
- It’s an incurable disease and can last for a lifetime.
- It’s one of the most widespread STDs in the world.
How does HIV enter the body?
- Through sex: When a person has unprotected vaginal, oral, and anal sex with an infected person, HIV is transmitted through the infected bodily fluids. It can also happen by sharing sex toys with an HIV-infected person.
- Through breastfeeding: A baby can get HIV infection through the mother’s milk during breastfeeding. Mothers can also transmit infection to their babies during pregnancy and delivery.
- Through blood transfusion: A person can get HIV through sharing or reusing syringes or via transfusion of infected blood.
Early symptoms of HIV
Within a few weeks of the virus entering the body, the infected person shows:
- Flu-like symptoms, viz; sore throat, fever, and dry cough
- Pain in the abdomen or while swallowing
- Loss of appetite, severe weight loss without reason, or fatigue
- White tongue, ulcers, oral thrush, or swollen lymph nodes
- Swelling or sores in the groin
- Unexplainable sweating, night sweats, malaise, or red blotches, or skin rash
- Vomiting, nausea, persistent diarrhea, or watery bowel movements
- Headache and opportunistic infections
Many people don’t get these symptoms for years. They continue to have unprotected sex and spread the infection unknowingly.
No symptoms after early infection
These early symptoms go away, as people, not realizing these are symptoms of HIV infection, treat them through normal medicines. The virus goes silent and does not show any further symptoms for months or even decades. The infected person appears and feels healthy.
During this time, HIV silently replicates and damages vital organs and the body’s immune system.
The rate of virus replication varies in individuals. It depends on the patient’s age, overall health status, genes, presence of other infections in the body, resistance to specific HIV strains, the body’s ability to fight against HIV, and more.
Last stage infection – AIDS
HIV weakens the immune system to such an extent that the body’s ability to fight other infections decreases drastically. The patient becomes vulnerable to serious diseases. At this stage, the HIV infection has progressed to AIDS (Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome).
Symptoms may include:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Chronic fatigue
- Persistent fever (above 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celsius) for weeks
- Blurred vision
- Swollen glands that stay for weeks and dry cough
- Unexplained weight loss
- Night sweats
- White spots in mouth or on tongue
- Dyspnea or shortness of breath
This stage poses a great risk for the patient to develop life-threatening diseases.
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A blood test is needed to diagnose AIDS. If HIV is detected, the test results are positive. Doctors re-test the blood several times before they give the final verdict to the patient.
The earlier the detection, the higher the chances of successful treatment. A home-testing kit is also available.
After entering the body, the virus takes 3-24 weeks to show up in tests.
According to an estimate by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in every 8 Americans, who is infected by HIV, is unaware that they are HIV-positive. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons for the widespread nature of AIDS.
So far, AIDS is incurable. Neither is there a vaccine. Whatever treatments are available at the present are meant to slow down the replication of the virus. This lets HIV-positive person live a longer and relatively healthier life. This is kind of managing the disease rather than curing it.
Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) is the crucial treatment for AIDS. The therapy uses anti-HIV drugs. The standard therapy involves the use of the combination of three drugs that slows down HIV replication. This combo is also called Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART). The drugs are used in a manner that the virus does not develop resistance to them.
According to studies, ART is able to decrease morbidity and mortality rates among HIV patients. It is found to enhance their quality of life.
According to guidelines issued by World Health Organization (WHO) in 2013:
- ART extends the life expectancy of HIV patients.
- It helps them live a better life.
- It decreases the risk of HIV transmission.
The HIV treatment continues for the entirety of the patient’s life. Patients must take their pills at the scheduled times every day without missing even a single dose. A combination of drugs is adapted to individual cases.
The side effects vary. The most common ones are headache, fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, mood swings, and skin rashes.
Emergency drugs for HIV
If a person doubts that he or she has been exposed to HIV in the last 72 hours, they need to take anti-HIV medications immediately to stop the infection. These are known as Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).
The PEP treatment is of 4 weeks duration. Its side effects are nausea, diarrhea, and headache.
The STD Express Clinic provides Emergency HIV treatment.
Countless myths surround HIV and AIDS. Please remember that HIV IS NOT transmitted through:
- Shaking hands
- Kissing in a casual manner
- Sharing towels, cutlery, and the toilet
- Touching an HIV-positive person
- Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
- Other casual contact with the patient
Quarantine of the patient is not needed in case of an HIV infection.
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