HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is the virus responsible for causing AIDS (Acquired immune deficiency syndrome). Following primary infection with the virus, it follows a period of intense viral replication associated with high viral load in the blood and rapid decline of the cells responsible for body immunity. (CD4 cells) This period lasts for 2-4 weeks. The individual may also experience flu-like symptoms, enlarged and tender lymph nodes, rashes on the body which may also affect the genital area, sore throat and many more. These presentations are non-specific for HIV infections which makes HIV counseling and testing recommendable to anyone presenting with similar symptoms.
Primary HIV infection follows clinical latency or asymptomatic stage in which the immune system has been activated by the presence of virus in the system and has learned how to deal with it. The flu-like symptoms disappear and the individual may live a normal life. There is slow decline in the immune cells and persistent and widespread enlargement of lymph nodes which may not be painful.
During the asymptomatic stage, if the individual is not put on antiretroviral, they progress to AIDS or symptomatic stage of HIV infection. During this stage the immune cells are profoundly destroyed by the virus and its production can't match the destruction. The body is susceptible to infections like tuberculosis, skin diseases, chronic diarrhea, and other severe bacterial infections.
PUNCHLINE: HIV infection is associated with rapid and profound reduction in immune cells. People with low level of immune cells are not able to fight infections and diseases and at risk of opportunistic infections which are the main causes of death in HIV patients. People on antiretrovirals are less predisposed to opportunistic infections.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus is spread through the following ways:-
- Unprotected sexual contact with infected person.
- Contaminated body fluids like blood.
- From mother to child. (Vertical transmission)
Antiretrovirals work to slow down viral replication and growth. They are usually given in combination of three drugs to form Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy. (HAART) There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. There are five basic goals for antiretroviral therapy, to include:-
- Reduce the viral load in the system (less than 50 viral copies per ml of blood plasma)
- Support the immune system as it rejuvenates and prevent progression to AIDS stage.
- Enhance quality of life with better mental and physical health.
- Reduce risk of transmission to others i.e sexual partner or mother to the child.
- Reduce HIV related deaths.
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HIV/AIDS- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Address: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HIV/AIDS
About HIV/AIDS | HIV basics- CDC. Address: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/whatishiv.html