HIV/AIDS |symptoms |causes |treatment - C.I.P.H.I

HIV/AIDS |symptoms |causes |treatment

What is HIV / AIDS?

HIV/AIDS |symptoms |causes |treatment
HIV/AIDS |symptoms |causes |treatment

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system, specifically the T-cells (also known as CD4 cells), which are responsible for fighting off infections. HIV attacks and destroys these cells, making it difficult for the body to fight off other infections and diseases. If left untreated, HIV can progress to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), which is the final stage of the infection and can be fatal. HIV is primarily spread through sexual contact, sharing needles, or from a mother to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. There is no cure for HIV, but with proper treatment, it can be managed and controlled, allowing people living with HIV to live long and healthy lives.

Symptoms and Signs of HIV / AIDS

The symptoms of HIV/AIDS vary depending on the stages of the infection.

Acute HIV infection

The symptoms of acute HIV infection, also known as primary HIV infection, can vary widely from person to person. Some people may have no symptoms at all, while others may experience flu-like symptoms within 2-4 weeks after infection. These symptoms usually last for a few weeks to a month and then go away on their own. However, it is important to note that even if someone has no symptoms of acute HIV infection, they can still transmit the virus to others. The symptoms may include;

  1. Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue, and body aches
  2. Sore throat
  3. Headaches
  4. Nausea and vomiting
  5. Rash on the body or face
  6. Night sweats
  7. Swollen lymph nodes
  8. Diarrhea
  9. Loss of appetite
  10. Mouth or genital sores or ulcers
  11. Joint pain or stiffness.

Asymptomatic Chronic HIV infection

This stage occurs after the acute phase and can last for many years. The virus continues to replicate and damage the immune system, but symptoms may not be present. Chronic HIV infection, also known as asymptomatic or clinical latent HIV infection, is a stage of HIV infection where the virus is still active in the body but does not cause any symptoms. As a result, many people with chronic HIV infection may not know they are infected. However, over time, chronic HIV infection can lead to the development of symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, and recurrent infections. Additionally, chronic HIV infection can also increase the risk of developing AIDS-related illnesses such as cancer and neurological disorders. It’s important to get tested for HIV and to seek medical care if you have been at risk of infection. Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and improve the overall health of the person living with HIV.

Symptomatic Chronic HIV infection

Symptomatic HIV infection refers to the stage of HIV infection where an individual begins to experience symptoms related to the virus. During this stage, the HIV virus begins to multiply rapidly, and destroy immune cells. In this stage, you may develop mild infections or chronic signs and symptoms. These symptoms are as follows;

  1. Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, and fatigue
  2. Sore throat
  3. Swollen lymph nodes
  4. Rash or skin eruptions
  5. Nausea and vomiting
  6. Diarrhoea
  7. Weight loss
  8. Night sweats
  9. Mouth or genital sores
  10. Yeast infections or other fungal infections
  11. Neurological symptoms such as confusion, memory loss, or difficulty concentrating
  12. Shortness of breath or chest pain.
  13. Weight loss
  14. Oral yeast infection (thrush)
  15. Shingles (herpes zoster)
  16. Pneumonia

Progression of HIV to AIDS

The final stage of HIV infection is AIDS. At this stage, the immune system is severely damaged, and the person is at risk of developing serious infections and cancers. Symptoms may include weight loss, chronic diarrhoea, and severe infections such as pneumonia.

It is important to note that the progression of HIV to AIDS can be slowed or even stopped with antiretroviral therapy (ART), a combination of medications that can lower the viral load and preserve the health of the immune system. Symptoms of AIDS are as follows;

Due to the discovery of antiviral drugs, many people with HIV infection do not develop AIDS. An HIV infection needs about 8-10 years to convert into AIDS.

When AIDS occurs, your immune system has been severely damaged. You’ll be more likely to develop diseases that wouldn’t usually cause illness in a person with a healthy immune system. These are called opportunistic infections or opportunistic cancers.

The signs and symptoms of some of these infections may include:

  1. Fatigue and weakness
  2. Sudden weight loss
  3. Swollen lymph nodes
  4. Fever and chills
  5. Night sweats
  6. Skin rashes or sores
  7. Yeast infections or thrush in the mouth or throat
  8. Recurrent infections
  9. Diarrhea
  10. Shortness of breath or cough
  11. Nausea and vomiting
  12. Depression and anxiety
  13. Memory loss and confusion
  14. Headaches and neurological symptoms.

Causes of HIV / AIDS

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV attacks and weakens the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight off infections and certain cancers. HIV is primarily spread through unprotected sexual contact, sharing of needles or other injection equipment, or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. In rare cases, it may also be spread through blood transfusions or organ transplants. There is no cure for HIV, but antiretroviral therapy (ART) can help manage the virus and slow the progression to AIDS. HIV/ AIDS can be caused and spread by the following means;

  1. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection: HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. It attacks the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infections and diseases.
  2. Unprotected sexual contact: HIV can be transmitted through unprotected sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
  3. Pregnancy and breastfeeding: Infected mothers can pass the virus on to their babies. However, mothers who are HIV-positive and get treatment for the infection during pregnancy can significantly lower the risk to their babies.
  4. Sharing needles: Sharing needles or other injection equipment can also transmit HIV.
  5. Blood transfusions: In rare cases, HIV can be transmitted through blood transfusions or organ transplants.
  6. From mother to child: HIV can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.
  7. Risky behaviours: Certain behaviours, such as unprotected sex or sharing needles, can increase the risk of contracting HIV.
  8. Lack of access to education: People who lack access to education about HIV prevention may be at a higher risk of contracting the virus.
  9. Stigma and discrimination: Stigma and discrimination can also play a role in the spread of HIV, as people may be reluctant to seek testing or treatment due to fear of judgment.

Risk Factors of HIV / AIDS

There are several factors that can increase the risk of the spread of HIV infection. These factors are;

  1. Unprotected sexual contact: The most common way to contract HIV is through unprotected sexual contact with an infected person. This includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
  2. Sharing needles or other injection equipment: HIV can be transmitted through the sharing of needles, syringes, and other injection equipment used to administer drugs.
  3. Blood transfusions: Before 1985, HIV was sometimes transmitted through blood transfusions. Today, all donated blood is screened for HIV, making this a rare risk.
  4. Pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding: A mother living with HIV can pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.
  5. Occupational exposure: Healthcare workers and other individuals who come into contact with blood or other bodily fluids may be at risk of contracting HIV.
  6. Substance use: Individuals who use drugs, particularly those who inject drugs, may be at an increased risk of contracting HIV due to increased risk-taking behaviours.
  7. Men who have sex with men: Men who have sex with men are at a higher risk of contracting HIV due to the nature of their sexual behaviour.
  8. Age: Young people and older adults may be at a higher risk of contracting HIV due to a lack of knowledge about the virus and increased risk-taking behaviours.
  9. Location: Individuals living in certain areas, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, may be at a higher risk of contracting HIV due to a lack of access to education and healthcare.
  10. Socioeconomic status: People living in poverty or with limited access to healthcare may be at a higher risk of contracting HIV due to a lack of resources and education.

Complications of HIV

As HIV infection directly damages your immune system, therefore, it can lead to AIDS and several other medical conditions.

  • Opportunistic infections: These are infections that take advantage of a weakened immune system. Examples include pneumonia, tuberculosis, and candidiasis (a type of yeast infection).
  • Cancer: People with HIV are at a higher risk of certain types of cancer, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma and cervical and anal cancers.
  • Neurological complications: HIV can also affect the nervous system, leading to conditions such as peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) and HIV-associated dementia.
  • Cardiovascular disease: HIV-positive individuals are at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Liver disease: HIV can lead to liver inflammation and damage, increasing the risk of liver failure.
  • Bone disease: HIV may lead to bone loss and osteoporosis.
  • Mental health problems: People living with HIV may experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
  • Tuberculosis: HIV infection can cause Tuberculosis because tuberculosis is caused due to a weak immune system.
  • Hepatitis: Several hepatitis infections like Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E can develop as complications of HIV/ AIDS.
  • STIs: The studies show that in the United States, people who get syphilis, gonorrhoea, and herpes often also have HIV, or are more likely to get HIV in the future.
  • Liver or kidney damage: HIV can cause damage to the liver and kidneys, but it is not a direct cause. HIV-positive individuals are at an increased risk of developing liver and kidney problems due to the virus’s ability to weaken the immune system, allowing other infections and illnesses to take hold.
  • Urinary tract infection: HIV can increase the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) due to a weakened immune system. People living with HIV may be more susceptible to bacterial infections such as UTIs, which can occur in the bladder, urethra, or kidneys.
  • Cytomegalovirus: Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a type of herpes virus that can cause infections in people with weakened immune systems, such as those living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Toxoplasmosis: Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, which is typically contracted through contact with infected cat feces, undercooked meat, or contaminated soil. Individuals with HIV may be at increased risk for developing Toxoplasmosis due to their weakened immune systems, but the infection is not directly caused by HIV.

It’s important to note that with appropriate medical care and treatment, many of these complications can be prevented or managed.

When to see the doctor for HIV / AIDS

The condition of HIV or AIDS is a very sensitive issue. If you suspect you have been infected, or exposed to the infection or you have had some sexual intercourse with a person, who is either infected or suspected of infection, you see the doctor as soon as possible. The infection of HIV/ AIDS needs to be nipped in the bud, otherwise, the infection may cause further complications.

Diagnosis of HIV / AIDS

Symptoms and signs at an initial stage are not enough to diagnose the presence of HIV. HIV can be diagnosed by its symptoms when it starts to progress to AIDS. Therefore if you suspect you are exposed to the virus or feeling very initial signs, you must get tested as soon as possible. There are several laboratory tests which confirm the presence of the HIV virus in blood cells. These tests are;

Blood and Saliva Tests

  1. Antibody Tests: This test is conducted to detect HIV IgM and/or IgG antibodies. These tests look for antibodies to HIV in blood or saliva. Most rapid HIV tests, including self-tests done at home, are antibody tests. Antibody tests can take 3 to 12 weeks after you’re exposed to become positive.
  2. Antigen and Antibody Combination Tests: This test is conducted in order to detects HIV p24 antigen as well as HIV immunoglobulin M (IgM) and immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies. These tests usually involve drawing blood from a vein. Antigens are substances on the HIV virus itself and are usually detectable — a positive test — in the blood within a few weeks after exposure to HIV.
  3. Nucleic Acid Tests: This test is taken to detect RNA of the HIV virus. These tests look for the actual virus in your blood (viral load). They also involve blood drawn from a vein. If you might have been exposed to HIV within the past few weeks, your healthcare provider may recommend NATNAT will be the first test to become positive after exposure to HIV.

It is important to note that it may take several weeks to several months for HIV antibodies to show up in a test, so it is recommended to wait at least 3-6 weeks after a potential exposure to be tested. Additionally, it is important to repeat the test after a few months after the first test to ensure the diagnosis.

Tests to determine the stage of HIV infection

In order to prescribe accurate antiviral medicines, your healthcare provider will need to determine the stage of the infection. For this purpose, some tests are utilized to find out the stage of the disease. These tests are;

CD4 T Cells Count Test: CD4 T cells are white blood cells which specialized to fight against diseases. An HIV infection generally targets these cells. In order to determine the stage of the disease, healthcare providers generally prescribe CD4 T cell Count Tests. A reduced cell count is considered an advanced stage of infection.

Viral Load (HIV RNA) Test: This test is conducted to determine the amount of virus circulating in the blood. The purpose of the treatment is to have an undetectable viral load. This significantly reduces your chances of opportunistic infection and other HIV-related complications.

Drug Resistance: Some strains of HIV are resistant to medications. This test helps your healthcare provider determine if your specific form of the virus has resistance and guides treatment decisions.

These tests help earlier detection of the infection. The amount of time during which no existing diagnostic test is capable of detecting HIV is called the eclipse period. The time between potential HIV exposure and an accurate test result is referred to as the window period. Advancing testing technology continues to reduce the detection window period, and, therefore, the time to diagnosis and treatment of early HIV infection.

Tests for Complications caused by HIV / AIDS

As HIV infection directly damages your immune system, therefore, a compromised immune system, allows many health conditions to develop at a time. Alongside treatment of HIV infection, your healthcare will medicate to reduce associated complications. These conditions need to be diagnosed first. In order to diagnose various plausible conditions, your healthcare provider will order tests for these conditions. These tests include;

  • Tuberculosis
  • Hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus infection
  • STIs like Gonorrhoea, syphilis and herpes. 
  • Liver or kidney damage
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Cancers like Cervical and anal cancer
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Toxoplasmosis

Treatment of HIV / AIDS