What is AIDS?
AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is a life-threatening condition caused by the virus HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). It cripples the immune system and hampers with the body’s ability to fight with the organisms that cause the disease. Untreated HIV gradually progresses to the final stage i.e. AIDS. HIV/AIDS doesn’t have any cure but advancements in healthcare have helped in developing medications that can slow the progression of the disease.
Causes of AIDS:
HIV is a virus that spreads through sexual contact or infected blood transfusion, or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding.
How does HIV become AIDS:
The CD4 T – white blood cells in our body plays a crucial part in protecting our body from various diseases. The HIV destroys these cells, thus reducing the body’s capability to protect itself. The fewer CD4 T cells one has, the weaker their immune system becomes. It takes years for a person to develop AIDS after contracting with HIV. An HIV patient progresses to have AIDS when their cell count drops below 200 or if they have an AIDS-defining complication.
How does HIV spread:
HIV spreads when the infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions enters the body. This can happen in the following ways:
Sex – You may become HIV positive if you have vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected partner whose blood, semen or vaginal secretion enters your body. Through the mouth sores or tears on the rectum or vagina, the virus can enter the body during sexual activity.
Blood transfusion – HIV can also spread during a blood transfusion session. When the infected blood is transfused to the body of a non-infected person, they may also get infected by the virus. That’s why, before any blood transfusion procedure, the patients are screened for HIV antibodies.
Sharing needles – Sharing of contaminated needles and syringes increases the risk of getting infected by HIV and other diseases like Hepatitis. It can be from the sharing of needles used for injecting drugs, tattoos or piercing.
Pregnancy, delivery or breast-feeding – Mothers infected with HIV can pass on the disease to their babies. With proper treatment, the infected mothers can lower the risk of transmitting the disease to their babies.
What are the symptoms of AIDS:
The symptoms of AIDS and HIV may vary based on the phase of the infection:
Primary Infection (Acute HIV)
The first stage of developing HIV is the primary or acute HIV infection. People develop a flu-like illness within the 1st or the 2nd month after the virus enters the body. The infection stays for a couple of weeks and the possible signs and symptoms may include:
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Sore throat and painful mouth sores
- Swollen lymph glands, mainly on the neck
The symptoms in the initial stage can be so mild that it may go unnoticed. Due to the high amount of viral load in the bloodstream, the infection spreads easily during this stage than in the later stages.
Clinical Latent Infection (Chronic HIV)
In this stage, some people may develop persistent swelling of lymph nodes. Other than that, the HIV stays in the body and infected WBCs (white blood cells) with no signs or symptoms. In this stage, the virus can last around 10 years if the patient is not receiving any antiretroviral therapy. On some occasions, the virus lasts for decades even after the treatment and some people may develop severe disease much sooner.
Symptomatic HIV infection
In this stage, the virus multiplies and destroys the immune cells that help the body fight off the germs. Apart from some mild infections, following chronic signs and symptoms can be seen:
- Swollen lymph nodes – one of the first signs of HIV infection
- Weight loss
- Oral yeast infection
- Shingles (herpes zoster)
- Tuberculosis (TB)
Progression to AIDS
Due to the recent advancements in healthcare and effective antiviral treatments, most people do not develop AIDS. An untreated HIV can develop into AIDS in about 10 years. AIDS compromises the immune system giving rise to opportunistic infections & cancers (diseases that won’t trouble people with a good immune system).
The following are the signs and symptoms:
- Soaking night sweats
- Recurring fever
- Chronic diarrhea
- Unusual lesions and persistent white spots on the tongue or mouth
- Unexplained fatigue
- Weight loss
- Skin rashes or bumps
AIDS can be managed with anti-retroviral medications if diagnosed at an earlier stage. With proper medication, an HIV infected person can have a life span equivalent to that of an uninfected person.