HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, was first discovered in 1981. HIV is mainly a sexually transmitted disease, but can also be transmitted via contact with infected blood or during pregnancy from mother to child, breastfeeding or childbirth. HIV is a virus that harms the immune system. The immune system assists the body to fight off infections. Hence, a person becomes more exposed to other infections and diseases when under the influence of HIV. HIV works by assaulting and destroying a certain type of White Blood Cell (cells that help us fight external infections) called the T-Helper cells. Thereafter, the HIV multiplies by producing copies or clones of its own self. T-helper cells are also called CD4 cells. If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). AIDS is also known as late stage HIV or advanced HIV. HIV progresses through stages, each having its own set of symptoms. Read on for a detailed list of symptoms that can accompany infection with HIV (and its AIDS stage). Unfortunately, there is no known cure for HIV – therefore, HIV is a lifelong disease. However, with early diagnosis, the right treatment and prescribed HIV tests and AIDS tests, an individual with HIV can live a long and healthy life.
There are certain specific ways in which HIV can be transmitted from one body to another. Analogously, there are certain ways in which HIV will not be transmitted from one individual to another. Bodily fluids that can transmit the HIV virus are:
Fortunately, HIV is not as easy to contact as other infectious diseases. The virus can’t survive for long outside the human body because it dies quickly when the body fluid dries up. Animals or insects do not spread it. You won’t find it on public surfaces like door handles or toilet seats.
To progress to AIDS and exhibit AIDS’ symptoms, one has to be infected with HIV first. However, it is not necessary that someone with HIV (or showing the symptoms of being affected with HIV) will definitely develop AIDS. HIV progresses through stages, each having its own set of symptoms:
This is the acute stage, or the primary infection stage, which occurs within the first few weeks after transmission. This stage may last for weeks. The symptoms are so mild during this phase that one might not even notice them. Yet, the quantity of virus in the blood stream (or viral load) is very high during this period; therefore, the spread and progression of the infection is easier than in the later stages. Potential signs and symptoms during this phase include:
Without treatment, HIV deteriorates the body’s ability to fight infection, hence making a person vulnerable to serious illnesses. This is the chronic stage or clinical latency or late-stage HIV infection. The risk of developing a life-threatening illness increases exponentially in this stage. Fortunately, a person with late-stage HIV can control, prevent and treat serious conditions by taking a combination of other medications along with HIV treatment. Symptoms of this stage may include:
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). This is the most severe phase of HIV infection. The immune system of a person with AIDS is damaged to such an extent that they get a growing number of critical illnesses, called ‘opportunistic infections’. When the activity of the immune system is decreased, late stage HIV decreases the body’s ability to fight off a number of infections, diseases and even cancers. Infections that would be harmless otherwise (ie, before the development of AIDS) now may pose a serious health risk because of the compromised nature of the immune system. If any of the following infections – which include ‘opportunistic infections’ occur, a person is diagnosed with AIDS. The signs and symptoms of some of these infections may include:
HIV infection is a condition brought about by HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus. One may come in contact with HIV via infected blood, semen, or vaginal fluids. Normally, individuals get infected by the HIV (virus) during unprotected sex with an individual who has HIV. Another common way of getting it is by sharing drug needles with someone who is carrying HIV.
When HIV is left untreated, it progresses to AIDS (autoimmune deficiency syndrome). As the immune system is compromised, infections that are otherwise innocuous can suddenly assume fatal proportions.
The importance of regular testing for HIV is paramount. The sooner one is detected with the HIV virus, the sooner can the treatment start – and the higher will be the chances of survival and living a normal life (even with the virus in the body). Although there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, there are different drugs available to control the progression of the virus. Such treatment is called antiretroviral therapy, or ART. The antiretrovirals do not actively kill the virus; instead, they target and block the different stages of the virus’ life cycle, thereby disabling the virus to replicate and make copies of itself and grow. The virus is blocked in different ways by each class of drugs. Antiretroviral therapy is now suggested for everyone, irrespective of the CD4 T-cell count.
There are more than two dozen antiretroviral drugs in the market today, and they fall under 6 main types. Each drug fights the virus in the body in a slightly different way. Research shows that a combination of drugs is the best way to control HIV and it lowers the chances that the virus will become resistant to treatment. The doctor will probably recommend that a person take 3 different medicines from 2 of the groups. Which specific ones the doctor prescribes depend on what other medical conditions a person has, what medications the person takes, how well the person’s immune system is working and even how many pills the person wants to take each day.
The ART drugs can have side effects, although newer varieties of medications usually don’t cause as many (as they once used to). You may experience some side effects for a short period of time. They might include:
If one is diagnosed with HIV / AIDS, there are numerous tests that can help determine the stage of the disease and the best course of treatment. They include:
CD4 T-Cell Count: These are the cells that the HIV virus kills. Hence, the number of these cells decline as the HIV infection advances. The normal range of CD4 count is about 500-1500, and a person is diagnosed with AIDS when the CD4 count drops below 200.
Viral Load (HIV RNA): The HIV viral load testing calculates the quantity of HIV genetic material (ribonucleic acid or RNA) in the blood and reports how many copies of the virus are present. The higher the viral load, the worse the condition.
Drug Resistance Assessment: Some strains of HIV are resistant to medications. Therefore, this test is suggested to determine if the specific form of virus has resistance, and guides the treatment decisions accordingly.
HIV TriDot: This is a rapid and simple screening test for HIV/AIDS. It is a visual enzyme immunoassay (EIA) employed to detect antibodies to HIV 1 and HIV 2. An immunoassay is a biochemical test that calculates the intensity of a macromolecule or a small molecule in a solution through the use of an antibody or an antigen. In this test, the HIV antigens are immobilized on a membrane in a special pad, and patient’s serum is added to it. After a brief incubation period and washing steps, other agents are added, and the presence of HIV antibodies is detected by a color change. A positive result is seen as a red dot. This can also help us distinguish between HIV 1 and HIV 2 infections.
ELISA: The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay spots the HIV antigens and antibodies in the blood, which the body starts producing between 2 to 12 weeks after contracting the HIV virus. This simple blood test is usually the first test suggested by the healthcare provider. If the test is positive, ELISA was previously followed by a test called the Western blot to confirm the diagnosis.
Western Blot: This test is also known as the Protein Immunoblot and it helps chart out all the protein molecules present in a person’s blood to differentiate and identify the HIV proteins, further confirming the diagnosis of HIV infection.
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Tests for HIV and AIDS Available At House of Diagnostics (HOD).
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