HIV is a virus that spreads into certain bodily fluids that attack the body’s immune system, specifically CD4 cells called T cells. HIV can destroy many of these cells over time, so the body can’t fight off infections and diseases. You can find more information below.
What is HIV/AIDS?
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome ( AIDS ) is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus ( HIV ). This harms your immune system, interfering/weakening your body’s ability to fight infection and disease.
HIV is a sexually transmitted infection. It can also spread from mother to child through contact with infected blood or during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. It can take years for this infection to weaken your immune system enough to become AIDS, without medication.
There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but medications can significantly slow the progression of the disease. These drugs have reduced AIDS deaths in many developed countries.
What causes HIV/AIDS?
HIV is caused by a virus. It can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. It can be transmitted to another person through sexual contact and blood.
How does HIV become AIDS?
HIV destroys CD4 T cells, which are white blood cells that play a big role in your body’s fight against disease. The fewer CD4 T cells you have, the weaker your immune system.
You can have an HIV infection with few or no symptoms for years before it turns into AIDS. AIDS is diagnosed when your CD4 T cell count falls below 200, when you have a serious infection or a defining complication such as cancer.
How is HIV transmitted?
To become infected with this virus, infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions must enter your body. This can happen in several ways, such as:
- By sexual contact: You can become infected if you have vaginal, anal or oral intercourse with an infected partner whose blood, semen or vaginal secretions enter your body. The virus can also enter your body through sores that sometimes develop in the rectum and vagina during sexual activity.
- Sharing needles: Sharing previously used syringes puts you at increased risk for other infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.
- From a blood transfusion: In some cases, the virus can also be transmitted through a blood transfusion. Most of the time, however, the relevant blood is screened before transfusion, so this risk is lower.
- During pregnancy and childbirth or through breastfeeding: Infected mothers can transmit the virus to their babies. Mothers who are HIV-positive and receive treatment for the infection during pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk for their babies.
How is HIV not transmitted?
You cannot become infected through normal contact. This means you won’t get HIV or AIDS by hugging, kissing, dancing or shaking hands with someone who has the infection. It does not get into air or water, so we must be careful not to exclude these people.
Who is at risk?
Anyone of any age, race, gender or sexual orientation can be infected with HIV/AIDS. However, you are at serious risk if:
- Unprotected sex: Use a new latex or polyurethane condom every time you have sex. Anal intercourse is riskier than vaginal intercourse. Your risk also increases if you have multiple sexual partners.
- Having a sexually transmitted disease: Many STDs produce open sores on your genitals. These sores act as a gateway for HIV to enter your body.
- Using IV drugs (intravenous therapy): People who use IV drugs often share needles and syringes with others. This exposes them to droplets of other people’s blood, and the risk is very high.
What are the HIV/AIDS stages and symptoms?
Symptoms of the disease vary depending on the stage of the infection.
Primary infection (acute HIV)
Some people who are infected develop a flu-like illness two to four weeks after the virus enters the body. Known as primary (acute) HIV infection, this illness can last for several weeks. Possible signs and symptoms include:
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Sore throat and painful mouth sores
- swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck
- weight loss
- night sweats
These symptoms can be so mild that you may not notice them. However, the amount of virus (viral load) in your bloodstream is currently quite high. As a result, the infection spreads more easily during the primary infection than during the next stage.
Latent infection (chronic HIV)
At this stage of infection, HIV is still present in the body and in white blood cells. However, many people may not experience any symptoms or infections during this time. This phase can last for years if you are not receiving antiretroviral therapy . Some people develop more severe disease much earlier.
Symptomatic HIV infection
As the virus continues to multiply and destroy your immune cells (cells in your body that help fight germs), you may develop mild infections or chronic symptoms such as:
- swollen lymph nodes
- weight loss
- Zona (herpes zoster)
Disease progression to AIDS
Thanks to better antiviral treatments, most patients in developed countries today do not develop AIDS. If HIV is left untreated, it typically turns into AIDS in about 8 to 10 years. AIDS means severe damage to the immune system. You are more likely to develop opportunistic infections or opportunistic cancers.
Symptoms of some of these infections can include:
- night sweats
- Relapsing fever
- chronic diarrhea
- swollen lymph nodes
- Persistent white patches or unusual lesions on your tongue or mouth
- Persistent, unexplained fatigue
- weight loss
- skin rashes or bumps
When should you see a doctor?
If you think you or any of your loved ones may be infected or at risk of contracting a virus, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.
How is HIV/AIDS diagnosed?
HIV can be diagnosed with a blood or saliva test. Available tests include:
- Antigen/antibody tests: These tests usually involve drawing blood from a vein. Antigens are the HIV virus itself and can be detected in the blood a few weeks after exposure. Antibodies are produced by your immune system when exposed to infection. It can take weeks to months for antibodies to be detected.
- Antibody tests: These tests look for HIV antibodies in the blood or saliva. The most rapid tests, including home self-tests, are antibody tests.
- Nucleic acid tests (NAT): These tests look for the virus in your blood. Your doctor may recommend these tests if you have been exposed to an infection in the past few weeks.
You should talk to your doctor about which test is right for you. If any of these tests are negative, you may need another follow-up test weeks or months later to confirm the results.
Tests for stage disease and treatment
If you have been diagnosed with HIV, it is important to find a specialist trained in the diagnosis and treatment of this disease to:
- Determining if you need additional tests
- Determining which HIV antiretroviral therapy (ART) would be best for you
- Working with you to monitor your progress and manage your health
If you are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, there are several tests available to help your doctor determine the stage of your disease and the best treatment:
- CD4 T cell count: CD4 T cells are white blood cells that are specifically targeted and destroyed by HIV. Even if you have no symptoms, the infection progresses to AIDS when your CD4 T cell count falls below 200.
- Viral load test: This test measures the amount of virus in your blood. After starting treatment, the goal is to catch an undetected viral load range. This will significantly reduce complications.
- Drug resistance: Some HIV bacteria are resistant to drugs. This test helps determine whether your form of the virus is resistant and guides treatment decisions.
Your doctor may also order laboratory tests to check for other infections or complications, including:
- hepatitis B or hepatitis C
- Other sexually transmitted infections
- Liver or kidney damage
- Urinary tract infection
- Cervical and anal cancer
How is HIV/AIDS treated?
HIV infection or AIDS cannot be cured. By the way, there are various drugs that can significantly delay the onset of the disease. The aim of treatment is to reduce the amount of virus (viral load) in the body as much as possible.
HIV experts now know that drugs are only mildly effective in the long run when administered individually. That’s why doctors today often combine three or more active ingredients from the start for what’s known as antiretroviral therapy .
As a result, the viral load can often be reduced to such an extent that HIV cannot be detected in the blood of those affected within a short period of time. However, this does not mean a cure, because the virus persists in different parts of the body, including helper cells, and therefore can reappear at any time.
In recent years, there has been much debate about the right time to start drug therapy. Meanwhile, experts prefer to start treatment early because this will reduce the mortality rate of those infected with HIV. Due to advances in medicine, late-detected infections can also be treated, but early diagnosis is still important.
The highly positive antiretroviral therapy (ART) is much easier to use than it used to be. Tablets containing several active ingredients have been developed. However, patients should strictly follow the treatment guidelines. This is because the HIV virus has developed resistance and there is a risk that the drug will no longer work. As studies show, non-adherence to treatment is a common cause of treatment failure.
Side effects of treatment
The side effects of the treatment are many, but the diarrhea, nausea and headache usually go away after a few weeks. On the other hand, long-term side effects such as painful inflammation of the nerves in the arms and legs ( neuropathies ) create bigger problems.
The redistribution of body fat, which can occur when taking certain drugs for a long time, is also becoming increasingly important. Lipodystrophic syndrome causes fat to accumulate on the abdomen, while fat on the arms, legs, and face is lost. As a result, patients appear emaciated and seriously ill.
In addition, metabolic disorders such as diabetes (diabetes) and hyperlipidemia (increased blood lipid levels) are becoming increasingly common with long-term treatment with some HIV drugs . The effects of these side effects on the cardiovascular system are not known yet.
What are the chances of success of the treatment?
Due to the development of new drugs, the prognosis of HIV has improved significantly in recent years, the transition to the clinical picture of AIDS can be delayed for a long time, completely prevented, and the mortality rate has decreased significantly. However, the disease is still not fully cured.
Even if a cure is not possible and treatment is accompanied by side effects, infected people can live a relatively normal life for a long time. However, it should not be overlooked that thousands of people around the world die of AIDS every year.
Currently, the focus of research is to develop drug and treatment strategies with fewer side effects, reduce the costs of the virus to prevent resistance, simplify treatment and make treatment accessible to people in poor parts of the world.
What should patients pay attention to?
A diagnosis of HIV is often a shock to those affected, as prejudices against HIV-infected people are still prevalent despite all information campaigns.
In addition to illness and death, many experience social isolation. Talking to others in self-help groups, AIDS help or counseling centers can help grasp mental health issues and accept HIV infection during this difficult stage.
People infected with HIV should have regular checkups to determine the best time to start treatment and to determine viral load. A trusting relationship with the specialist doctor is very important in order to adapt the treatment in the most appropriate way to the daily life of the person concerned.
There are almost no restrictions on living with other people. Things like hugging, shaking hands or kissing are not an infection risk.
Patients can also have intercourse, but they should definitely use condoms while doing this. Unprotected sexual contact is potentially life-threatening for your partner or partner.
How can you protect yourself from AIDS?
Most people become infected with HIV through unprotected sexual contact. Condom use helps limit the spread of the virus.
However, according to studies, some people do not want to use condoms because other birth control methods are also effective, and this stands out as a potential risk factor.
Protection with safe sex
If you follow some rules during sexual intercourse, you can significantly reduce the risk of infection. Here are the main rules:
- Always use a condom or femidom (female condom) for vaginal and anal intercourse.
- Condomless oral intercourse is considered low risk, but if possible, you should not get semen or menstrual blood in your mouth.
- Avoid contact with blood, menstrual blood or semen on mucous membranes and open wounds.
- Use condoms and femidomes correctly. Use only undamaged condoms/femidoms
- Be regularly examined with your partner and have the necessary tests done.
Other prevention methods
Other contraception methods other than safe sexual intercourse are as follows:
- Prevention with treatment: When the viral load in the blood drops below the detection limit with successful antiretroviral therapy, there is no longer a risk of sexual infection from HIV-positive individuals.
- Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP): An HIV medication is taken as a precaution to protect against infection. The drug prevents the virus from multiplying in the body.
- Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP): A short-term treatment for HIV after a risk exposure. For this, the drug must be prescribed by a doctor.
- Circumcision: Studies have shown that circumcision in heterosexual men reduces the risk of infection by approximately 60%. It has not yet been clarified whether this also applies to gay men or men who have sex with men.
- Safe use of medical devices: You should only use your syringe and similar things yourself while taking medication. In addition, you should provide the most hygienic conditions possible while using medication.