HIV is the virus that attacks and destroy the immune system by drastically reducing CD4 count. It is a lifetime infection that is not curable but can only be suppressed by the use of antiretroviral therapy. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), HIV is a global health issue and it has claimed 33 million lives.
This article will look into the meaning of HIV and AIDS, causes, symptoms, prevention and treatment.
What is HIV?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that targets and weakens the immune system thereby making a person to be more susceptible to other infections and diseases. This virus attacks the CD4 cells which are the white blood cells that fight off infections in the body and also ensures the efficiency of the immune system. If HIV infection is left untreated they kill more CD4 Cells and more infections such as tuberculosis and cancer starts to set in. They are mainly transmitted through the bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids, bloods and breast milk.
HIV is a lifetime infection and there is currently no cure or vaccine for it but scientist in developed countries are making so much effort to find a cure and vaccine to the infection. However early diagnosis and treatment of this infection can limit the virus from causing an adverse health condition called AIDS. The effective use of antiretroviral therapy can make people who live with HIV to survive and stay healthy for many years, but if this infection is left untreated it can progress to AIDS and the likelihood of survival at this stage is thin.
What is AIDS?
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the serious health condition that result from the damage caused by HIV to the immune system. The effective use of antiretroviral drugs based on prescription by your doctor can limit HIV from progressing to AIDS. A person with a healthy immune system usually have a CD4 count between 500 to 1600 per cubic millimetre. However if a person with HIV has a CD4 count that is below 200 per cubic millimetre then that person has already developed AIDS. At this stage many opportunistic infection starts to set in such as cancer, pneumonia and tuberculosis. People with AIDS can only survive for just 3 years without HIV medicine.
How does HIV spread?
HIV spread when the bodily fluids of an infected person gets into your body. The bodily fluids include semen, vaginal fluids, breastmilk and bloods. It can also be spread from mother to child during pregnancy, child delivery and breastfeeding (through breast milk). The transmission can also occur in the following ways:
- Sexual intercourse: you can contract HIV if you have vagina, oral or anal sex with an infected person and there is exchange of bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids and bloods.
- Blood transfusion: HIV can be directly transmitted during blood transfusion when the blood is already contaminated with the virus. This is the reason it is important to carefully screen blood for the presence of HIV and other infectious pathogen before blood transfusion takes place.
- Sharing of needles: sharing of syringes, needles and other sharp objects that is already contaminated with the virus can double your risk of contracting HIV and other infections.
- Surgical equipment: this virus can also be spread through unsterilize surgical equipment such as scalpels, surgical scissors, lancets and trocars. Therefore surgical equipment should be well sterilized in the autoclave at a temperature of 121 degrees celsius for 30 minutes in other to destroy viruses and other infectious microbes.
- Pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding: HIV can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy periods, childbirth and breastfeeding but preventive measures can be taken to control the spread.
It is important to note that HIV cannot be spread through air, water, hugging, kissing, mosquito bites, sharing the same plate to eat, shaking of hands and sneezing.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
There are different symptoms of HIV and they vary from person to person. The symptoms that HIV present depend on the stage of the infection. The following are the stranges of HIV infection as well as the symptoms the present:
First stage: Acute Infection Stage
This is the first stage of HIV infection and during this period most people do not know that they are already infected with the virus. At this stage the immune system produces HIV antibodies that are meant to fight off the infection and this will lead to development of flu-like symptoms within 2-6 weeks of exposure to the virus, although everyone may not experience these symptoms. These symptoms may last for few weeks and go away and they include:
- Skin rash
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Night sweats
- General body pain
The above symptoms can also occur in people with other infections, therefore it is important to see your doctor and get tested for immediate medical treatment if you have been exposed to the virus through an infected person. Early treatment and effective use of antiretroviral drug can keep the virus in a dormant state and prevent the infection from progressing to another stage.
Second stage: Clinical Latency Stage
This is the asymptomatic stage of HIV infection and it is also referred to as chronic HIV infection. At this stage people do not exhibit any symptoms and without HIV treatment they can stay for about 10 years before progressing to the next stage. During this period the virus continues to reduce the number of CD4 cells, but with the effective use of antiretroviral therapy the virus can be reduced and kept dormant. People who take HIV medicine properly based on doctor prescription during this stage have lower risk of transmitting the infection. However it is important to get tested from time to time during treatment period so as to know the viral load.
Therefore early detection and proper use of high-quality antiretroviral drug will prevent you from progressing to the next stage.
Third stage: AIDS
This stage is characterized by a very weak immune system due to spontaneous reduction of the CD4 cell count that falls below 200 per cubic millimetre. The viral load in this stage is very high and opportunistic infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, candidiasis and toxoplasmosis starts to set in.
The risk factors of developing AIDS include:
- Late detection/diagnosis of HIV
- Use of fake antiretroviral therapy
- Resistance of HIV to the antiretroviral drugs
- Inconsistent use of antiretroviral therapy
The symptoms and complications of AIDS include:
- Rashes and lesions on skin
- Night sweats and fatigue
- Recurrent diarrhoea
- Rapid weight loss
- Mouth ulcer
- Presence of sore on genital
- Severe headache
- Neurological disorder and depression
The opportunistic infections that are related to AIDs may include pneumonia candidiasis, tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis, some certain cancers and meningitis. Therefore the proper and consistent use of antiretroviral therapy can limit HIV infections from progressing to AIDS.
Diagnosis of HIV
The early detection of HIV is very important so as to begin immediate treatment to prevent the worsening of the infection. Blood and saliva are specimen that are used to diagnose HIV clinically.
The following are test that are used to detect HIV:
- Antibody/antigen test: it typically detects HIV within 3 – 7 days of exposure to the infection. Blood sample is collected and used for the purpose of this test and it works by screening antigen and antibodies in the blood. The antibody is the immune response to HIV while antigens are the viral particles.
- Antibody test: Blood and saliva are used for this test and it is primarily for the detection of antibodies in the blood or saliva. It takes 3 to 12 weeks to become positive to HIV antibody test after exposure to the infection.
- Nucleic acid test (NAT): this test is used for early diagnosis of HIV infection and it targets the viral load. If you think you have come in contact with an infected person and you are at risk of infection in the past few weeks, your doctor may recommend nucleic acid test. This test detects the virus in the blood within 7-21 days after exposure to the infection.
- Drug-resistant test : this test is also very important while you are taking treatment so as to detect the strains of virus that are resistant to the HIV medications.
What is HIV window Period?
This is the period between exposure to HIV infection and when it is detectable in the blood. When HIV gets into the body, the immune system produces antibodies to respond to it and the average period for detecting these antibodies in the blood is between 2-12 weeks. If a person gets tested for HIV during this period the results will come out negative.
Treatment of HIV infection
Treatment should commence as soon as HIV infection have been confirmed positive. Currently there is no cure to HIV infection however it can be managed and suppressed by the use of medications called antiretroviral therapy (ART). The antiretroviral therapy works by reducing the viral load of the HIV and keeping them in a dormant state so that the damage they cause on the system will be limited. They also prevent the virus from destroying and reducing the CD4 cells. The antiretroviral therapy are placed in 6 classes and they include:
- Nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIS)
- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIS)
- Protease inhibitors (PIS)
- Entry Inhibitors
- Integrase inhibitors
Prevention of HIV infection
The following are effective measures that can be taken to prevent HIV infections:
- Practice safe sex and make use of latex condom
- Avoid sharing needles and sharp objects with people
- Blood should be well screened and tested in the lab before blood transfusion takes place
- Surgical equipments should be sterilized at a temperature of 121 degree Celsius for 30 minutes in an autoclave to eliminate all viruses and other infectious pathogens.
- Pregnant women should use antiretroviral therapy consistently when they are pregnant and should not breastfeed their babies to prevent passing the virus to them.