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HIV and AIDS Overview

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, abbreviated as AIDS is a chronic disease that can lead to life-threatening conditions. This chronic disease is caused by human immunodeficiency virus, popularly known as the HIV virus.

HIV impairs the human body’s immune system affecting its strength to fight different viruses, bacteria or germs that lead to different diseases. HIV is amongst some of the most dangerous STIs (Sexually transferable infections). In addition, the virus also spreads with blood contact. Furthermore, the HIV could be passed on from mothers to newborn babies while breastfeeding or during pregnancy.

HIV takes several years to develop into AIDS. Doctors and researchers have been looking for a cure for AIDS from the last few decades. Though researchers have found out the way to slow down the development of HIV into AIDS, there is no total cure for AIDS, at present.

 

HIV  and AIDS  Symptoms

As discussed above, it takes several years for HIV to develop into AIDS. Here are the different phases of the HIV infection before developing into AIDS:

1) Acute HIV

2) Chronic HIV

3)Symptomatic HIV

Let's discuss HIV symptoms in details:

 

Acute HIV:

This is the primary infection and marks the very first stage of HIV. The HIV virus load is usually higher at this stage. Some of the most common HIV symptoms that patients experience in this stage include:

-  High Fever

-  A persistent Headache

-  Joint Pain

-  Pain in Muscles

-  Rashes on Skin

-  A persistent sore throat

-  Frequent Ulcers in Mouth

 

Chronic HIV 

This is the clinical latent infection stage and at this HIV stage, the HIV virus loads in the human body and enters the bloodstream. Typically, this stage of HIV lasts over a span of 10 years or more. The HIV symptoms for this stage remain the same as the first stage and are usually mild or average.

 

Symptomatic HIV 

This is third and the advanced stage of HIV before it develops into AIDS. In this stage, the virus load in the body keeps on increasing at a rapid pace. Due to the increase in HIV virus load in the body, the immune system becomes immensely weak in this stage. Some of the most common signs and symptoms that patients experience in this stage include the following:

-  Frequent High fever

-  Extreme Fatigue

-  Swelling in lymph nodes

-  Extreme weight loss

-  Frequent Diarrhea

-  Oral yeast infection

-  Herpes zoster

 

Progression to AIDS

This is the last and the final stage of HIV. In this stage, HIV infection finally develops into AIDS. Typically, it takes HIV infections more than 10 years to finally turn into AIDS. However, the progression of HIV into AIDS could be slowed down with proper treatment and care. The progression of HIV infection into AIDS fully damages the body’s immune system making the human body vulnerable to a wide range of other diseases and HIV infections. 

Some of the most common signs and HIV symptoms that patients experience in this stage include: 

-  Extreme sweating during nighttime

-  Persistent fever

-  Persistent diarrhea

-  Lesions on tongue

-  Extreme fatigue

-  Unexplained weight loss

-  Skin Rashes

 

Causes of HIV and AIDS

HIV disease can gradually progress into AIDS. HIV diseases are spread by blood contact, sexual contact, from pregnant mother to child during pregnancy, and from mothers to newborn babies through breast-feeding.

How does HIV become AIDS? 

When HIV spreads out in the human body, affects the body’s immune system destroying the CD4 T cells. These are the white blood cells that help the body’s immune system resist diseases and infections. The diagnosis of AIDS is confirmed when the CD4 T cell count drops down below 200 or when an individual starts experiencing signs and symptoms of AIDS.

 

How does HIV spreads?

One may get infected by the HIV by infected blood contact, or when vaginal secretions or semen enter the body. Here are several ways through which HIV infection spreads:

-  Unprotected sex. HIV may infect those who have anal, oral or vaginal sex with someone already infected with HIV.

-  From blood transfusions. Those who undergo blood transfusions may also catch up with the virus.

-  By sharing needles. Those who share contaminated intravenous needles may also get HIV infections.

-  During pregnancy or breast-feeding. HIV Infected mothers can infect the unborn babies in their womb through their blood or mothers can infect their newborn babies by breastfeeding.

 

Risk factors

HIV infections can hot any individual of any age, race, sexual orientation or sex. And this HIV infection may gradually develop into AIDS. Here are some of the major risk factors for AIDS:

▪ Unprotected sex

▪ Sexually Transmitted Infections

▪ Intravenous drugs

▪ Lack of circumcision

 

Complications

HIV disease weakens the immune system, making one’s body much more likely to develop numerous infections and certain types of cancers.

Infections:

-  Tuberculosis (TB).

-  Cytomegalovirus

-  Candidiasis

-  Cryptococcal meningitis

-  Toxoplasmosis

-  Cryptosporidiosis

Cancers:

-  Kaposi's sarcoma

-  Lymphoma

Other complications:

-  Wasting syndrome

-  Diarrhea

-  Chronic weakness

-  High Fever.

-  Neurological complications

-  Kidney disease

 

HIV Diagnosis

In order to diagnose HIV/AIDS, doctors run HIV tests. Some of the most common ways to diagnose HIV are blood tests and saliva tests. These HIV diagnosis tests help doctors find out about antibodies to fight against HIV virus. However, the human body may take as long as 12 weeks to develop antibodies to fight against HIV infection.

In addition, doctors also test for antigens. It is a protein developed by HIV virus soon after the spread of infection. This test can help individuals understand if they have been affected by the infection soon after it spreads, and help them take preventive steps to control the infection.

Home Test Kits: 

There are several home test kits available to test HIV infection. These home test kits can help patients understand if they have HIV infection in order to take preventive measure against the spread of the infection to others.

Other Tests: 

In addition to these tests, doctors may ask patients to undergo several other tests to diagnose the HIV stage in order to determine the best available treatment option and preventive measures. Some of these tests are:

-  CD4 T cell count

-  Viral load (HIV RNA)

-  Drug resistance

Complication Tests 

Since HIV infection weakens the immune system making the human body vulnerable to several other diseases and infections, doctors may also conduct several other lab tests including:

-  Tuberculosis

-  Hepatitis

-  Toxoplasmosis

-  STI (Sexually transmitted infections)

-  Liver or kidney damage

-  Urinary tract infection

 

HIV Treatment

It would sound redundant, but AIDS has no cure yet. However, medical research fraternity had developed several drugs to contain the virus. The treatment to control the infection via drugs is referred to as ART (antiretroviral therapy). These drugs are known to block the HIV virus.

Here is a list of some of the most common anti-HIV drugs classes:

-  Nucleoside or nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) - [Abacavir (Ziagen), and the combination drugs emtricitabine/tenofovir (Truvada), Descovy (tenofovir alafenamide/emtricitabine), and lamivudine-zidovudine (Combivir)]

-  Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)- [efavirenz (Sustiva), etravirine (Intelence) and nevirapine (Viramune)]

-  Entry or fusion inhibitors - [enfuvirtide (Fuzeon) and maraviroc (Selzentry)]

-  Integrase inhibitors - [raltegravir (Isentress) and dolutegravir (Tivicay)]

-  Protease inhibitors (PIs) inactivate HIV protease - [atazanavir (Reyataz), darunavir (Prezista), fosamprenavir (Lexiva) and indinavir (Crixivan)].

 

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HIV Prevention

Again, HIV/AIDS has no cure at all and there are no vaccines available to prevent the spread of HIV virus. However, people may exercise a little caution and preventive measures to protect self and others from the harms of HIV infection. Here are just some of the many preventive measures for the spread of HIV infection:

Protected sex – It is important to practice protected sex at all times to ensure that HIV virus doesn’t spread out. One must use condoms when having an intercourse. Women must use female condoms.

Emtricitabine-tenofovir (Truvada) drug – One may consider using the drug, Truvada. It reduces the health risk of sexually transmitted HIV.

Clean needles – Those who use needles to inject drugs or get tattooed must make sure that the needle is sterilized. In addition, one must never share needles.

Medical care during pregnancy – HIV infected pregnant women must exercise special caution and heed proper treatment to ensure that they don’t transmitted to the newborn baby.

Male circumcision – Scientific evidence suggest that male circumcision can help reduce a man's risk of getting HIV infection.

 

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Myths About HIV/AIDS

Myth 1: Everyone suffering from HIV infection can transmit the virus.

Fact: Sadly, this is one of the biggest myths about HIV/AIDS. However, this is not true at all. Not everyone infected with HIV virus transmits the virus. Those taking proper HIV treatment and medication do not really transmit the virus.

 

Myth 2: HIV-positive test means a death sentence.

Fact: Unfortunately, most people start thinking that they will die of AIDS as soon as they are diagnosed with HIV infection. However, diagnosis of an HIV could help patients start their treatment at the earliest in order to stay healthy and prevent transmitting the disease to others.

 

Myth 3: HIV-positive people can’t have children.

Fact: This is yet another myth that plagues around HIV/AIDS. However, this is not completely true. If HIV infected pregnant women exercise proper ART treatment and ensure all preventive measures, they can safely have healthy children. In fact, regularly taking medication during and after the pregnancy period can dramatically reduce health risk of passing on the HIV infection to the newborn babies.

 

Myth 4: HIV always leads to AIDS.

Fact: HIV infection is the root cause of AIDS. However, not every HIV infected individual develops AIDS. With early treatment and proper precautionary measures, one can control the symptoms and contain the HIV infection from progressing into AIDS.

 

Myth 5: Oral sex doesn’t lead to HIV/AIDS.

Fact: Well, this is partially true. Though the chances of transmission of the HIV via oral sex are rare, it can still happen. The likelihood of the spread of the disease increases if someone has cuts or ulcers in the mouth or gums.

 

Myth 6: HIV is very severe and therefore if one has the disease it is easy to spot.

Fact: This myth is absolutely not true and is very dangerous due to the wrong information it spreads. HIV is not spotted right away after a person is infected. the HIV virus, like any other, requires time to incubate in the body before it starts showing any symptoms. sometimes the virus may not even exhibit symptoms for a long time and continue to affect the patient silently. In such a case the virus can spread to partners and there is no way of knowing or tracking it without proper testing.

 

Myth 7: Men who are circumcised do not catch AIDS.

Fact: This myth is again very dangerous because men who are circumcised can also catch HIV due to sexual contact with an infected partner. However, research has shown that men who are circumcised have a lower risk of catching the virus. This does not, however, mean that men who are circumcised are immune to the virus and will not catch it at all.

 

Myth 8: One can catch HIV by spending time with infected persons.

Fact: this depends on what it means to spend time with them, as simply talking to a person with HIV does not mean that one will catch the virus. sharing razors and blades for shaving, however, can lead to infection and should be strictly avoided.

 

Myth 9: Having sex with an HIV-negative person would rid an HIV infected patient of their disease.

Fact: this is lethal, since there is no cure to HIV, and having sex with someone is certainly not the cure. the only possible outcome of this would be that the clean person also gets infected with HIV.

 

Myth 10: Masturbating with a person with AIDS can also cause the infection.

Fact: touching and using fingers while masturbating with a partner does not mean that the infection can spread. However, precautions must be taken to stay safe, sex toys should not be inserted into more than one person during the masturbation, and fingers must be washed properly before inserting into the other person. what one is looking to avoid is a genital exchange of fluids as that is what will cause the infection to spread.

 

Myth 11: Swimming pools are a breeding ground for diseases, including HIV AIDS.

Fact: swimming pools can be quite unhealthy due to a lot of reasons. however, the HIV virus does not spread through a swimming pool as the HIV virus cannot survive in water. hence, using the same swimming pool bathtub etc does not mean the HIV virus will spread to other people.

 

Myth 12: Sperms of an HIV infected person can cause the virus so if they fall on bed sheets or towels, the virus can spread from there.

Fact: outside the body, the HIV virus finds it very hard to survive. this means that used condoms, towels with ejaculation on them, tissue papers used for clean up, or accidental spills on bedsheets do not mean that this virus can spread to other people.

 

Myth 13: once sexual contact is made with an HIV infected person, there is no way to prevent the disease.

Fact: since there is no cure for HIV, this rumor spreads far and wise, but this is not true. While prevention is the most important point in the situation, if one does come in contact with an infected person, they can use an Emergency HIV treatment.

Emergency HIV treatment is known as Post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, and these can prevent the virus from developing a full-fledged infection if administered 72 hours post contact with an infected person. the administration of this treatment is complex and requires to begin as soon as possible.

 

Myth 14: when both partners are HIV positive, there is no need to use condoms.

Fact: often when partners are both HIV positive they do not think that using a condom is necessary but this is not true and is rather dangerous. there are several strains of every virus and so is the case with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Patients may be infected with different strains and having unprotected sex in such a situation will only make the situation worse for the patients. they can not only be infected by another strain of the same virus, but this may also affect the treatment in many adverse ways.

 

Myth 15: HIV spreads only amongst gay men. straight people do not have HIV AIDS.

Fact: this terrible rumor has bruised many egos and immune systems. HIV spreads due to unprotected sex to men and women alike. People of any sexual orientation can be affected by the virus, it does not matter if they are straight or homosexual. This rumor dates back to the 90’s when the virus was first diagnosed in gay men in America and it was assumed that the disease only spreads amongst gay men. over time this myth was debunked and it was realized that all humans, other than those who are asexual, can be affected by an HIV infection.

 

Myth 16: when a patient is getting treatment for AIDS, they cannot spread the virus and they do not need to use condoms.

Fact: When a patient is getting treatment, the strength of the HIV virus in their body is reduced substantially which is why it may not affect their partner(s). However, this does not mean one can skip protection as the virus is only weak, not absent, and can still cause the infection in another person.

 

Myth 17: Women with HIV AIDS cannot have children as the child passes through the vagina and gets the infection at birth.

Fact: People with HIV can have children and also prevent them from having the disease, this only requires careful medication under the guidance of a doctor. An ART treatment should be started immediately in case a woman is trying to get pregnant. the HIV medication requires to be taken every day, including when the woman is in labor and when delivering. When this is done carefully and properly, the chances of the child getting the disease are 1% or even lower.

 

Myth 18: Women with HIV AIDS cannot breastfeed.

Fact: Women with HIV can breastfeed now, though it was not safe for a long time. however, drugs have been developed which make it safe to breastfeed even if the nursing mother is an HIV patient. the drug may be administered to the mother, the feeding child, or both. with very minimal risk, a mother can breastfeed her baby.

 

Myth 19: those who test HIV AIDS negative can have sex without condoms.

Fact: those who test HIV negative should definitely not have sex without a condom, as this only means that they have not been infected, this does not mean they are immune to the HIV altogether. In order to be safe from HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases, it is crucial to always use protection in the form of a condom.

 

Myth 20: HIV AIDS only happens to those who have unnatural sex.

Fact: The definition of what is unnatural sex to a person varies from person to person. While some think that oral and anal sex, as well as homoerotic sex, are unnatural, others found their beliefs on logic and consider bestiality to be unnatural.

Tracing back to history, bestiality was the cause of human beings getting HIV as the virus was earlier only present in a species of the monkey family in Africa. But having sex which is quite natural, within the same species, may it be oral or anal sex, is not the cause of HIV.

 

Myth 21: Anal sex causes HIV AIDS.

Fact: HIV itself is a virus, and nothing other than the virus itself can cause an HIV infection. coming in contact with the virus with bodily fluids such as blood, precum, rectal fluids, etc. can only cause HIV if the person whose bodily fluids are in question is a patient of HIV.

Anal sex with a healthy person who does not have HIV does not cause HIV. Anal sex is not the cause of HIV and related diseases like AIDS or Hepatitis B.

 

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1) Do all people with HIV have AIDS?

Ans: No, not everyone with HIV infection gets affected by AIDS. As discussed, HIV infection takes several years before progressing into AIDS and with proper treatment and prescribed medication, an HIV affected individual can contain the disease from progressing into AIDS.

 

2) Can I get HIV from getting a tattoo or through body piercing?

Ans: Yes, if the needles used in the process of tattooing are contaminated and are not sterilized or disinfected, there is a likelihood of developing HIV infection. It is important to ensure that the needles and other instruments used for tattooing are properly sterilized and disinfected. In fact, experts suggest disposing off the needles and instruments used once in order to completely avoid the likelihood of the spread of HIV.

 

3) How does an expectant mother transmit HIV to her unborn child?

Ans: An expectant mother, infected with HIV virus, may spread the virus to the unborn child through her blood. There is more risk to the unborn child if the expecting mother has been recently diagnosed with HIV infection or experiencing the advanced stage of AIDS. In addition, HIV (AID) could also be passed from the mother to her unborn child at the time when baby passed through the genital tract.

 

4) Can HIV be transmitted through breast-feeding and what can be done?

Ans: Yes, Newborn babies can get HIV (AIDS) from their infected mother through breast milk. Researchers have found that the HIV virus is present in the breast milk of infected mothers in a low concentration. However, infected mothers can ensure proper treatment and regularly take prescribed medication to avoid passing on the infection to their newborn babies via breast milk.

 

5)  Can one get AIDS by touching an HIV/AIDS infected individual?

Ans: No, HIV is not spread by touching or shaking hands of an infected individual. In fact, researchers weren’t able to find any conclusive evidence of HIV virus being transmitted from one person to another by sharing a cup, though HIV virus is found in saliva.

 

6) Can HIV be transmitted through an insect bite?

Ans: No, HIV (AIDS) cannot be transmitted via insect bites. Medical researchers have found that HIV virus does not really survive in insects. Therefore there is no likelihood of HIV/AIDS being transmitted from one person to another via insect bites.

 

7) Is there a treatment available for HIV/AIDS?

Ans: As discussed, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS. However, ART (Anti-Retroviral Treatment) medication can help control and contain the infection. But those starting ART treatments need to continue with them for their entire life.

 

8) How does HIV/AIDS not spread?

Ans: Well, this is one question that everyone must know. There are a lot of misconceptions about HIV/AIDS and infected people are looked down upon due to sheer unawareness about the same. HIV virus cannot be transmitted by ordinary human contact. This means one cannot get HIV/AIDS by kissing or shaking hands with infected individuals. In addition, it is important to remember that HIV/AIDS doesn’t spread through air, water or insect bites.

 

9) Do AIDS medicines disfigure a person? I have heard they have a side effect like that.

Ans: Initially the medications for HIV/AIDS were not as advanced and patients would experience a side effect of fat dislocating from various parts of their body, including the face, arms, and legs. However, medical research has moved beyond that stage and the medicines which cause such great side effects have been pulled out of the market. The drugs used for HIV treatment now do not have such severe side effects. When a patient uses the drugs properly in consultation with the doctor, follows all their advice, and takes all necessary precautions, they can live an ordinary life despite the lifelong tussle with AIDS.

 

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Last updated on : 25-10-2018

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