What is HIV?
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks the cells of the immune system. CD4+ cells help the body to resist any infections. With a lack of these cells, the body is less resistant, which makes it vulnerable to other infections and diseases. HIV spreads mainly via bodily fluids (blood and semen) from the person with HIV; for example, during unprotected sex or sharing injection drug equipment.
If untreated, HIV can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Hence, treating HIV with antiretroviral therapy (ART, HIV medicine) is necessary to reduce the viral load and prevent transmission of HIV to the patient’s sexual partners.
How is HIV transmitted?
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is transmitted by coming in direct contact with certain body fluids of the person infected with HIV. These fluids are as follows
- Rectal fluids
- Vaginal fluids
- Breast milk
Transmission only occurs when the fluid gets into the bloodstream of an HIV-negative person through open sores or cuts, by direct injection or a mucous membrane.
The most common ways of spreading HIV are as follows
- Having anal or vaginal sex with an HIV-positive person
- Sharing needles with a person who has HIV
Less common ways are as follows
- During pregnancy or breastfeeding
- Having oral sex
- Receiving blood products that are contaminated with HIV
- Getting stuck with an HIV-contaminated needle
Hence, taking precautions either while having sex or avoiding sharing needles is the best way to prevent HIV.
What is usually the first sign of HIV?
The first signs of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection are flu-like symptoms, which mainly start around two to four weeks after getting HIV. This stage is known as acute HIV infection and the symptoms include
Stage 2: Chronic HIV infection
In this stage, the virus multiplies at a low level and people may not experience any symptoms at all. Without HIV treatment, the person can remain in this stage for 10 to 15 years. However, the virus remains active during this stage.
Stage 3: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)
- Unexplainable weight loss
- Recurring fever
- Getting tired easily
- Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin or neck
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
- Sores of the mouth, anus or genitals
- Memory loss, depression
- Purplish spots on the skin that don’t go away
- Night sweats
- Bruises or bleeding due to an unknown reason
What are the types of HIV tests?
There are three types of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) tests used to diagnose HIV infections, which are as follows
- Antibody tests: These check for HIV antibodies in the blood or oral fluid.
- Antigen/antibody tests: These help to detect both HIV antibodies and antigens in the blood.
- Nucleic acid tests: These look for HIV in the blood.
What is the treatment for HIV?
The treatment for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) involves a combination of medications known as antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART cannot cure HIV; however, it can increase the survival rate of the patients.
ART halts the multiplication of the virus and reduces the amount of virus in the body to help the patient stay healthier.
Once the treatment has been started, the patient must remain compliant with the dosage for the medicines to be effective. Noncompliance can result in developing resistance to the medicines.
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