AIDS/HIV Infection: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

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AIDS/HIV Infection (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome/Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection): Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

HIV refers to the human immunodeficiency virus, which attacks the immune system and remains in the body for life. If left untreated, HIV leads to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). This virus is mainly transmitted through sexual intercourse. Once a person is infected with HIV, the virus remains in their body for life. If you’re HIV-positive, anti-retroviral treatment (ART) can greatly extend your life.

These infections are unlikely to occur in people with healthy immune systems. AIDS develops during the final stages of HIV infection and is characterised by a CD4 cell count of fewer than 200 cells per mm3 or the presence of an AIDS-defining condition. From 1981 to 2006 over 25 million people have died due to HIV infection. About 0.26 million children have died of AIDS in 2009. Estimated 0.6% world population suffers from AIDS.

Within a few weeks of HIV infection, flu-like symptoms such as fever, sore throat and fatigue can occur. Then the disease is usually asymptomatic until it progresseAIDS is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

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How Does AIDS Affect Your Body?

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, life-threatening disease caused by the HI virus. The virus attacks and gradually destroys the immune system (which helps the body to defend itself against infection and disease). Without treatment, people with HIV become susceptible to a variety of opportunistic infections – so called because they take advantage of the body’s weakened immune system.

What Are The Causes of AIDS?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that infects humans and can lead to an advanced disease state called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). There are two types of the HIV virus: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is more virulent and the dominant strain is seen globally.

HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids (e.g. semen, blood, and breast milk) via activities like sexual intercourse, needle injection and breastfeeding.

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What Are The Risk Factors of AIDS?

You have a higher risk of developing AIDS if you:

  • Have unprotected sex – Use a new latex or polyurethane condom every time you have sex. Anal sex is riskier than is vaginal sex. Your risk of HIV increases if you have multiple sexual partners.
  • Have an STI – Many STIs produce open sores on your genitals. These sores act as doorways for HIV to enter your body.
  • Use intravenous drugs – People who use intravenous drugs often share needles and syringes. This exposes them to droplets of other people’s blood.
  • Are an uncircumcised man – Studies suggest that lack of circumcision increases the risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV.
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What Are The Symptoms of AIDS?

Majorly, people develop symptoms about three weeks after they become infected with the virus. This is called “seroconversion illness” (or primary or acute HIV infection) and coincides with the production of antibodies to the virus. Antibodies are molecules that recognize and attach to organisms invading the body with the aim of destroying them.

During the seroconversion illness, symptoms usually last 1–2 weeks and may include the following:

  • Fever and night sweats
  • Aching muscles and tiredness
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands
  • Diarrhoea
  • Skin rash and ulceration of the inside surface of the mouth and genitals
  • Headache, sore eyes and sensitivity to light

After experiencing these initial symptoms, most people don’t have any other symptoms for many years. This is why HIV/Aids is often called the “silent epidemic” and why getting tested is so important. Only a blood or fluid sample can reveal the presence of the virus.

When symptoms associated with the advance of HIV to AIDS occur, they appear roughly in the following order:

  • Unexplained weight loss (more than 10% of body weight)
  • Swelling of glands in the neck, armpit or groin
  • Easy bruising
  • Recurring and unusual skin rashes (often itchy)
  • A thick, white coating of the tongue or mouth (oral thrush) or vagina (vaginal thrush), which is severe and recurs
  • Ongoing vaginal discharge and pain in the lower abdomen
  • Sinus fullness and drainage
  • Recurrent herpes
  • Shingles
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Recurring fevers lasting more than 10 days without an obvious cause
  • Night sweats or chills
  • Persistent cough and/or shortness of breath
  • Persistent severe diarrhoea (longer than a month)
  • Changes in vision
  • Pain, loss of control and strength of muscles, paralysis
  • Discoloured or purplish growths on the skin or inside the mouth or nose
  • Difficulty concentrating, inability to perform mental tasks that have been done in the past, confusion, personality change
  • In children, the order of symptoms and the symptoms themselves differ slightly
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How is AIDS Diagnosed?

The primary tests for diagnosing HIV and AIDs include:

  • ELISA Test — ELISA, which stands for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, is used to detect HIV infection. If an ELISA test is positive, the Western blot test is usually administered to confirm the diagnosis. If an ELISA test is negative, but you think you may have HIV, you should be tested again in one to three months. ELISA is quite sensitive in chronic HIV infection, but because antibodies aren’t produced immediately upon infection, you may test negative during a window of a few weeks to a few months after being infected. Even though your test result may be negative during this window, you may have a high level of the virus and be at risk of transmitting infection.
  • Home Tests — The only home test approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is called the Home Access Express Test, which is sold in pharmacies.
  • Saliva Tests — A cotton pad is used to obtain saliva from the inside of your cheek. The pad is placed in a vial and submitted to a laboratory for testing. Results are available in three days. Positive results should be confirmed with a blood test.
  • Viral Load Test — This test measures the amount of HIV in your blood. Generally, it’s used to monitor treatment progress or detect early HIV infection. Three technologies measure HIV viral load in the blood: reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), branched DNA (bDNA) and nucleic acid sequence-based amplification assay (NASBA). The basic principles of these tests are similar. HIV is detected using DNA sequences that bind specifically to those in the virus. It is important to note that results may vary between tests.
  • Western Blot — This is a very sensitive blood test used to confirm a positive ELISA test result.
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How To Prevent & Control AIDS?

Tips for preventing HIV-AIDS include:

  • Get tested for the infection – If you don’t get tested, you won’t know if you’re HIV positive or not. During the first three months of infection (the ‘window period’), it’s hard to pick up the virus in the body. That’s why testing every six months is the best way to be sure.
  • Get your partner tested for the infection – You and your partner should both get tested before you have sex for the first time. You can’t rely on being this person’s only sexual partner. People are sometimes reluctant to disclose their sexual habits.
  • Never have sex without a condom – You simply have to make this a rule if you want to reduce your chances of becoming HIV positive. Make sure you know how to use a condom correctly.
  • Practice safe sex –  Kissing, erotic massage, and mutual masturbation are all examples of safer sex activities. You can’t get HIV from doing these things. Oral sex without a condom or dental dam isn’t recommended, but it’s still safer than having unprotected sex.
  • Be faithful – Don’t sleep around. If you and your partner have both been tested, you’re both HIV negative and you’re faithful to one another, you can’t get HIV from sexual contact. Experts recommend that you have two HIV tests six months apart when neither of you has had any new sexual partners in between. It’s the only way to be sure.
  • Stay away from drugs – If you’re unable to do this, make sure you use clean needles and equipment and that you don’t share needles with other drug users. Note that one of the consequences of drug use is also that being high can make you forget about the rules of safe sex.
  • Avoid blood contact –  If you’re helping a bleeding person, avoid getting any of their blood into any sores or cuts you may have on your skin. Also, protect your eyes and mouth. There should be gloves in all first-aid kits – use them.
  • Transmission in pregnancy – If you’re pregnant and don’t know your HIV status, get tested. If you’re HIV-positive, taking antiretroviral treatment (ART) during your pregnancy and when you deliver the baby will greatly reduce the chances of transmitting HIV to your baby.
  • Consider circumcision – This procedure, in which the foreskin of the penis is removed, has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV transmission from women to men.
  • Take action if you’ve been exposed to HIV – Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) means taking antiretroviral treatment after you’ve been exposed to HIV. It must be taken within 72 hours of exposure and reduces your chances of becoming HIV-positive. PEP is often given to people who work in a medical environment (after a needle-prick incident) and to those who have been sexually assaulted or shared drug needles. PEP must be taken for 28 days and has some side effects, such as nausea. Note that it’s not a substitute for normal HIV preventative measures.
  • Consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – This means taking medication to prevent HIV infection if you’re at high risk of getting infected. In South Africa, a drug named Truvada (a combination of emtricitabine and tenofovir) is proving to be particularly useful among sex workers. If you’re using PrEP, it’s important to take the drugs exactly as prescribed and to use other preventative measures (e.g. condoms) if you can.

Treatment of AIDS – Allopathic Treatment

Common drugs used are –

  • Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs) turn off a protein needed by HIV to make copies of itself. Examples include efavirenz (Sustiva), etravirine (Intelence) and nevirapine (Viramune).
  • Nucleoside or nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) are faulty versions of the building blocks that HIV needs to make copies of itself. Examples include Abacavir (Ziagen), and the combination drugs emtricitabine/tenofovir (Truvada), Descovy (tenofovir alafenamide/emtricitabine), and lamivudine-zidovudine (Combivir).
  • Protease inhibitors (PIs) inactivate HIV protease, another protein that HIV needs to make copies of itself. Examples include atazanavir (Reyataz), darunavir (Prezista), fosamprenavir (Lexiva) and indinavir (Crixivan).
  • Entry or fusion inhibitors – These drugs block HIV’s entry into CD4 T cells. Examples include enfuvirtide (Fuzeon) and maraviroc (Selzentry).
  • Integrase inhibitors work by disabling a protein called integrase, which HIV uses to insert its genetic material into CD4 T cells. Examples include raltegravir (Isentress) and dolutegravir (Tivicay).

Treatment of AIDS – Homeopathic Treatment

Some of the commonly indicated homeopathic medicines for HIV and AIDS are HIV nosode, Sulphur, Tuberculinum, Syphilinum, Silica, Kali carbonicum, Phosphorus, Calcaria iodum, Arsenic album, Arsenic iodum, Bacillinum.

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AIDS – Lifestyle Tips

  • Eat a more nutritious diet – A healthy diet for someone living with HIV is one that is rich in whole grains, low-fat dairy products, protein, and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Include multivitamins, especially B12 and zinc, wherever possible. Remember that a healthy diet is also about what you don’t eat: Try to cut out fried foods and sugary drinks as much as you can.
  • Quitting smoking
  • Stopping illicit drug use
  • Get moderate exercise – Being physically active three to six times a week can help improve your mood and your outlook as well as improve your overall quality of life. The benefits of exercise include fighting HIV symptoms of appetite loss and nerve pain and reducing the risk of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
  • Practice safe sex – Having HIV does not mean the end of your sex life — but you should always use a new latex condom whenever you do engage in sex. This will protect your partner from your HIV infection and will protect you from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that can complicate your health status.
  • Get tested and treated for sexually transmitted diseases – Many people with HIV also have other STDs, even if they are asymptomatic. Get tested to find out if you have any other infections and get treated if you do.
  • Take your medications as prescribed and visiting your doctor often – Your doctor may have prescribed HIV medications to help your body’s immune system stay healthy longer. Taking those medications as prescribed, even though it may be difficult to keep up with the medication schedule, is extremely important. Taking medications on schedule is called adherence — it is important because it will reduce the risk that HIV will become drug resistant and it will also give your body the best chance at keeping the virus under control.

What Are The Recommended Exercises For a Person With AIDS?

Following are the types of exercises recommended for HIV patients –

  • Resistance training – Resistance or strength training is important for people with HIV because it can help offset the loss of muscle sometimes caused by the disease. This form of exercise involves exertion of force by moving (pushing or pulling) objects of weight. They can be barbells, dumbbells, or machines in gyms. You can also use safe, common household objects such as plastic milk containers filled with water or sand, or you can use your own body weight in exercises such as push-ups or pull-ups. The purpose of resistance training is to build muscle m
  • Aerobic exercise – Aerobic exercise strengthens your lungs and heart. Walking, jogging, running, swimming, hiking, and cycling are forms of this exercise.

AIDS & Pregnancy – Things to Know

About 90 percent of those were infected with the virus during pregnancy or birth. HIV transmission from mother to child during pregnancy, labor, delivery or breastfeeding is called perinatal transmission. Perinatal HIV transmission is the most common way children are infected with HIV.

Common Complications Related to AIDS

HIV infection weakens your immune system, making you prone to develop numerous infections and certain types of cancers. These include:

  • Tuberculosis (TB)
  • Cytomegalovirus infection
  • Candidiasis infection
  • Cryptococcal meningitis
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Cryptosporidiosis
  • Different forms of cancer

Other FAQs about AIDS

Q. Can you die from aids infection?

A. HIV destroys important immune cells that help the body fight off infection. Most people who die from HIV/AIDS do not die from the virus itself but rather from these so-called “opportunistic infections,” which take advantage of a weak immune system.

Q. Do all people with HIV have AIDS?

A. No. Being diagnosed with HIV does not mean a person will also be diagnosed with AIDS. Healthcare professionals diagnose AIDS only when people with HIV infection begin to get severe opportunistic infections (OIs), or their CD4cell counts fall below a certain level.

Q. Can HIV be transmitted through breastfeeding and what can be done?

A. Yes. The virus has been found in the breast milk in low concentrations and studies have shown that 10 to 15% children born to HIV-infected mothers can get HIV infection through breast milk. Breast milk, however, has many substances in it that protect an infant’s health. The benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child are well recognized and as effective ARV drugs are available, it is now recommended to all HIV positive mothers to continue breastfeeding their infant.


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