HIV & AIDS, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Every day we are exposed to a large number of infectious agents. However, only a few of these exposures result in disease. Why? This is due to the fact that the body is able to defend itself from most of these foreign agents. This overall ability of the host to fight the disease-causing organisms, conferred by the Immune system called immunity.

Immunity is of two types: Innate Immunity and Acquired immunity.


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Innate immunity is a non-specific type of defense that is present at the time of birth. This is accomplished by providing different types of barriers to the entry of foreign agents into our bodies. Innate immunity consists of four types of barriers:

  • Physical barriers: The skin in our body is the main barrier that prevents the entry of micro-organisms into our body.
  • Physiological barriers: Acid in the stomach, saliva in the mouth, tears in eyes- all these prevents microbial growth.
  • Cellular barriers: Certain types of leucocytes in our body are natural killers in the blood as well as macrophages in tissue can phagocytose and destroy microbes
  • Cytokine barriers: Virus-infected cells secrete proteins called interferon which protect non-infected cells from further infection.

HIV

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HIV full form is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, it is a virus that enters the body and attacks the immune system. It targets and alters the immune system which in turn increases the risk of infection and diseases. If goes untreated for long, the infection may result in a more advanced disease called AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

When the HIV virus targets and infiltrates the white blood cells that move around the body and fight against foreign microbes, it reduces the body’s ability to combat other diseases.

HIV is a lifelong infection. However, receiving treatment and managing the disease effectively can prevent HIV from reaching a severe level. This can reduce the risk of a person passing on the virus.

Early HIV Symptoms

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HIV does not always produce symptoms. HIV disease usually causes flu-like symptoms about two to four weeks after transmission. This short period of time is called acute infection.

The early symptoms of HIV infection may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Sweats, particularly at night
  • Enlarged glands
  • A red rash
  • Tiredness 
  • Weakness
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Thrush

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)

It is due to the deficiency of the immune system and is acquired during the lifetime of an individual indicating that it is not a congenital disease. Syndrome means a group of symptoms. AIDS is caused by Human immunodeficiency virus HIV, a member of group viruses called retrovirus.

Causes

Transmission of HIV infection generally occurs by:

  • Sexual contact with an infected person. Anal or vaginal intercourse with a person who has HIV while not using a condom or preventive causes of HIV aids medication for people at high risk of infection
  • By transfusion of contaminated blood and blood products
  • By sharing infected needles as in the case of intravenous drug abusers. Sharing equipment for injectable illicit drugs, hormones, and steroids with a person who has HIV.
  • From infected mother to her child through the placenta. A woman infected with HIV who is pregnant or has recently given birth might transfer the disease to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.

People transmit HIV aids in bodily fluids, including:

  • blood
  • semen
  • vaginal secretions
  • anal fluids
  • breast milk

It is important to note that HIV/AIDS is not spread by mere touch or physical contact. It only spreads through body fluids. It is, hence, imperative, for the physical and psychological well-being, that the HIV/AIDS infected people are not isolated from family and society. There is always a time lag between the infection and the appearance of AIDS symptoms. This period may vary from a few months to many years (usually 5-10 years).

Signs and Symptoms of AIDS

People infected with the AIDS virus remain apparently well even after infection. They may not show physical early HIV symptoms of illness for a long time. Once an individual is infected, the body may respond in many ways.

  • Swollen lymph nodes and fever.
  • Decreased count of blood platelets. It leads to hemorrhage and fever.
  • Sweating at night and tiredness.
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite.
  • AIDS virus may attack the nervous system causing damage to the brain. It may lead to memory loss, loss of coordination, partial paralysis, mental disorder and loss of ability to speak and think.
  • Since the AIDS virus destroys the protective immune system of the body, the person becomes susceptible to other infections. Some of the diseases are pneumonia, tuberculosis, and certain cancer issues.

High-risk groups

The high-risk groups who are most likely to get infected with AIDS are:

  1. Homosexual men.
  2. Bisexual men and individuals who have multiple partners.
  3. Male and female intravenous drug users.
  4. Individuals who need repeated blood transfusions.
  5. Children born to an HIV infected mother.

Prevention

So far there is no vaccine to prevent AIDS. However, it is preventable but not curable. It can be prevented by changing personal behavior. People can be educated on the following things so as to help ignorant people from becoming victims.

  • Insist on the use of fresh new blade at the barber’s shop. The Common razor should not be used.
  • Only disposable needles and syringes should be used (whether it is for the injection or testing of blood).
  • Sexual contact with unknown people should be avoided.
  • During any blood transfusion, blood transfused should be tested.
  • Advocating safe sex and promoting regular check-ups for HIV in a susceptible population.

Control

Treatment of AIDS with anti-viral drugs is only partially effective as they can only prolong the life of the patient. So far, to date, there is no known cure or effective treatment for AIDS and it is still a mysterious disease in many ways. Most individuals with full-blown AIDS die within three years from infection or cancer.

What’s the difference between HIV and AIDS?

  • While HIV is a virus that may cause an infection, AIDS is a condition.
  • Contracting HIV can lead to the development of AIDS.
  • Someone can be infected by HIV and not have AIDS.
  • HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.
  • HIV and AIDS are not the same things.
  • People with HIV do not always have AIDS.

HIV is a potentially dangerous disease that reduces the ability of the immune system in combatting other infections. Advances in modern medicine person living with HIV can have a near-normal life expectancy. A person receiving antiretroviral therapy must adhere strictly to their regime for the most effective results. Also, if a person has a viral load that HIV tests cannot detect, they cannot transmit the virus to another person.

AIDS can open the door to a number of infections that can pose severe health risks. Some are extreme or prolonged presentations of infections that would normally resolve quickly in a person with healthy immune function. Others might occur due to microbes that occur naturally in the environment and would not normally cause infection at all. A person living with AIDS can revert the condition to HIV through adhering to treatment.


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Courtesy CDC

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Kushal Parekh

4 thoughts on “HIV & AIDS, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

  1. Hello! I just would like to give a huge thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post. I will be coming back to your blog for more soon.

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