How long can you live with HIV?
There is no generalized definitive period for which a person with HIV can live. In the case of an untreated HIV infection, the overall mortality rate is more than 90%. The average time from infection to death is eight to ten years. This may; however, vary from person to person. Many factors affect survival:
- Mental health
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Superinfection with another HIV strain
With the increasing use of antiretroviral therapy (ART) and the introduction of better antiviral regimens, survival with HIV infection has increased over time. The survival, however, is not yet equivalent to that in uninfected individuals.
What are the four stages of HIV?
HIV infection can present in the following four stages:
- This is the earliest stage of HIV infection.
- It appears generally within two to four weeks after HIV infection.
- The symptoms during this stage include:
- Body ache
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes (glands that protect from infections; they can be felt when swollen in the armpits, groin and neck)
- In the acute stage, the virus multiplies rapidly and spreads throughout the body.
- HIV targets and destroys the CD4 cells (the infection-fighting cells of the immune system); in this stage of HIV infection, the level of HIV in the blood is very high. The high levels increase the risk of HIV transmission or spread.
- This is the best stage to start ART because this stage gives significant health benefits.
Chronic HIV infection
- This is the stage of asymptomatic HIV infection or clinical latency.
- In this stage, the symptoms of stage one go away but the HIV infection continues to multiply in the body, though at very low levels.
- The symptoms subside as the virus overpowers the immune system and progressively kills the CD4 cells to destroy the body’s immunity.
- If ART is not given, a chronic HIV infection usually advances to AIDS in 10 years or longer. In some people, however, it may advance faster.
- If ART is administered, the person may stay in this stage for several decades.
- Although it is still possible to transmit HIV to others during this stage, taking ART exactly as prescribed will maintain an undetectable viral load in the person. So, they have an effectively negligible risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner through sex.
Moderately symptomatic stage
- In this stage, due to disease progression, certain symptoms appear:
- Weight loss that is greater than 10% of the person’s total body weight
- Prolonged (more than one month) of unexplained diarrhea
- Tuberculosis and other severe infections of the lungs, kidney, brain, bones, and joints
- Yeast infections
- Mouth ulcers
- Swollen and painful gums
- Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the final and most severe stage of HIV.
- In this stage, HIV reduces CD4 cell counts to very low levels (less than 200 units), which severely damages the immune system.
- The weak immune system cannot fight bacteria, viruses and fungi that are unable to cause diseases in other healthy people (opportunistic infections). Opportunistic infections are infections and infection-related cancers that occur more frequently or are more severe in people with weakened immune systems than in people with healthy immune systems.
- Once a person progresses to AIDS, they have a high viral load and can transmit HIV to others very easily.
- In the absence of treatment, people with AIDS typically survive for about three years.
What is the window period for HIV?
The window period refers to the time after the HIV infection, when the presence of HIV in the blood cannot be detected by a diagnostic test. It takes a different amount of time for HIV to show up on different HIV tests. The length of the window period depends on the type of test a person takes. The advanced tests (called the fourth-generation tests) can give an accurate result within four weeks of the infection, while others may take two to three months.
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