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HIV And AIDS: Causes, Symptoms, Stages, Diagnosis And Treatment

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a deadly virus that causes a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition called Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). India has 2.1 million people affected with HIV, the world's third-largest population suffering from HIV/AIDS.

According to the UNAIDS, in 2018 approximately 37.9 million people across the globe are living with HIV/AIDS, out of these 36.2 million were adults and 1.7 million were children below 15 years old.


What Is HIV? [1]

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that damages the immune system and this interferes with the body's ability to fight the organisms. HIV is transmitted through sex, blood transfusions, shared needles or through breastfeeding.

HIV is a lifelong condition and without proper treatment, a person with HIV is more likely to get AIDS.

HIV destroys CD4 T cells, a type of T cell that plays a major role in regulating effective immune response to pathogens. A normal adult's CD4 count is 500 to 1,500 per cubic millimeter and when you have HIV, the CD4 count falls below 200. This means that HIV continues to multiply and destroy CD4 cells [2] .


How Do You Get HIV Infection? [3]

HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids like semen, blood, vaginal secretions, breast milk and anal fluids and this can happen in many ways which include the following:

  • Having sexual intercourse- If you have anal, vaginal or oral sex with an infected partner whose blood, semen or vaginal secretions enter the body, you may contract HIV.
  • Sharing needles- Sharing contaminated intravenous drug paraphernalia (needles and syringes) increases the risk of HIV.
  • Blood transfusions- The HIV virus can also get transmitted through blood transfusions.
  • Pregnancy or breast-feeding- Mothers who are infected can pass the virus on to their babies.

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Stages Of HIV Infection

  • Stage 1 (Acute stage)- In this stage, the person develops a flu-like illness within 1-2 months after the virus enters the body [4] .
  • Stage 2 (chronic stage)- HIV infects the body and destroys the white blood cells. If you are not receiving antiretroviral therapy, the HIV infection lasts for around 10 years [5] .
  • Stage 3 (AIDS)- In this stage, the immune system has been severely damaged, which increases the risk of infections and other diseases.

Symptoms Of HIV Infection/AIDS

  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Weight loss
  • Skin rashes or bumps
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Recurring fever
  • Soaking night sweats
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Rash
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Oral yeast infection
  • Shingles
  • Changes in menstrual cycle
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Vaginal infections

Risk Factors Of HIV Infection/AIDS [6]

  • Unprotected sex- Having unprotected sex without using a condom is a risk factor of HIV infection. Anal sex has a higher risk than vaginal sex.
  • STIs- Many STIs cause open sores on the genitals and this allows HIV to enter the body.
  • Intravenous drugs- People using intravenous drugs most often share needles and syringes, which exposes them to come in contact with other people's blood.

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Complications Of HIV Infection/AIDS [7]

  • Tuberculosis- It is the most common complication associated with HIV and is the leading cause of death among people with AIDS.
  • Candidiasis- An HIV-related infection, candidiasis causes inflammation in the mucous membranes of the mouth, tongue or vagina.
  • Cytomegalovirus- It is a Herpes virus that is transmitted through body fluids like urine, semen, saliva, blood and breast milk.
  • Cryptococcal meningitis- It is a central nervous system infection linked to HIV.
  • Cryptosporidiosis- It is caused when you eat or drink contaminated food or water, which then leads to severe diarrhoea in people with AIDS.

Diagnosis Of HIV Infection/AIDS [8]

  • Antibody tests- This test only checks the blood for antibodies. After HIV transmission between 23 and 90 days, the antibodies are found in the blood or saliva.
  • Antibody/antigen tests- The test is done by checking the blood for antibodies and antigens and it is the most common test for HIV infection/AIDS, which show positive results within 18-45 days after an individual has contracted HIV.
  • Nucleic acid test (NAT)- This test is done to check for the virus in the blood and is usually confirmed by an antibody test.

Treatment Of HIV Infection/AIDS

Currently, there is no cure for HIV infection/AIDS, but there are certain drugs to control the virus which is called the antiretroviral therapy (ART). These anti-HIV drugs can block the virus in different ways. These include the following:

  • Antiretroviral drugs- These medications are given to fight the HIV infection and slow down the progression of virus in the body [9] .
  • Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)- Post-exposure prophylaxis or emergency HIV pills are given to an individual who has been exposed to the virus within the last 3 days. The treatment lasts for 28 days and it lowers the risk of contracting or spreading HIV when taken consistently [10] .

Prevention Of HIV Infection

  • Use a condom whenever you have sex.
  • Limit your sexual partners
  • Avoid sharing needles.
  • Avoid coming in contact with a person's blood.
View Article References  
  1. [1]   Wilson, E. M., Singh, A., Hullsiek, K. H., Gibson, D., Henry, W. K., Lichtenstein, K., ... & Sereti, I. Study to Understand the Natural History of HIV/AIDS in the Era of Effective Therapy (SUN Study) Investigators (2014) Monocyte-activation phenotypes are associated with biomarkers of inflammation and coagulation in chronic HIV infection. J Infect Dis, 210(9), 1396-1406.
  2. [2]   Cummins, N. W., & Badley, A. D. (2014). Making sense of how HIV kills infected CD4 T cells: implications for HIV cure. Molecular and cellular therapies, 2, 20.
  3. [3]   Gallo, R. C., & Montagnier, L. (2003). The discovery of HIV as the cause of AIDS. New England Journal of Medicine, 349(24), 2283-2285.
  4. [4]   Robb, M. L., & Ananworanich, J. (2016). Lessons from acute HIV infection. Current opinion in HIV and AIDS, 11(6), 555-560.
  5. [5]   Deeks, S. G., Lewin, S. R., & Havlir, D. V. (2013). The end of AIDS: HIV infection as a chronic disease. Lancet (London, England), 382(9903), 1525-1533.
  6. [6]   Karmacharya, D., Yu, D., Dixit, S., Rajbhandari, R., Subedi, B., Shrestha, S., … Santangelo, S. L. (2012). A study of the prevalence and risk factors leading to HIV infection among a sample of street children and youth of Kathmandu. AIDS research and therapy, 9(1), 25.
  7. [7]   Luetkemeyer, A. F., Havlir, D. V., & Currier, J. S. (2010). Complications of HIV disease and antiretroviral treatment. Topics in HIV medicine : a publication of the International AIDS Society, USA, 18(2), 57-65.
  8. [8]   Fearon M. (2005). The laboratory diagnosis of HIV infections. The Canadian journal of infectious diseases & medical microbiology = Journal canadien des maladies infectieuses et de la microbiologie medicale, 16(1), 26-30.
  9. [9]   Mayer, K. H., & Venkatesh, K. K. (2010). Antiretroviral therapy as HIV prevention: status and prospects. American journal of public health, 100(10), 1867-1876.
  10. [10]   Sultan, B., Benn, P., & Waters, L. (2014). Current perspectives in HIV post-exposure prophylaxis. HIV/AIDS (Auckland, N.Z.), 6, 147-158.

Story first published: Sunday, December 1, 2019, 8:30 [IST]
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