HIV is a life-threatening virus.
The virus can spread through sexual contact or blood or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks the immune system and weakens the defense of people against many kinds of cancer and infections. Infected individuals eventually become immunodeficient as the virus destroys and impairs the function of immune cells. Usually, immune function is measured by the cell count of CD4. Depending on the person, the most advanced stage of HIV infection is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which can take several years to develop if not treated. AIDS is defined by the development of certain cancers, infections or other severe long term clinical manifestations.
HIV/AIDS symptoms in men
HIV symptoms vary from person to person, but in men and women, they’re identical. Such symptoms can come and go or gradually get worse. They may also have been exposed to other sexually transmitted infections if a person has been exposed to HIV (STIs). They include:
- With gonorrhea
- Syphilis Infections
Men, and those with a penis, may be more likely to notice signs of STIs, such as genital sores, than women. However, men typically don’t seek medical care as often as women.
HIV/AIDS symptoms in women
For the most part, in men and women, HIV symptoms are identical. However, if they have HIV, the symptoms they experience overall can vary depending on the various risks faced by men and women. There is an increased risk of STIs in both men and women with HIV. Women, and those with a vagina, can, however, be less likely to find tiny spots or other changes in their genitals than men. Furthermore, women with HIV have an increased risk of:
- Recurring infections of vaginal yeast
- Other vaginal infections, including vaginosis by bacteria,
- Inflammatory Pelvic Disorder (PID)
- Shifts in the menstrual cycle
- Human papillomavirus (HPV), which may lead to cervical cancer caused by genital warts
Another risk for women with HIV, while not linked to HIV symptoms, is that the virus may be transferred during pregnancy to an infant. However, during pregnancy, antiretroviral treatment is considered effective.
How does HIV become AIDS?
HIV destroys CD4 T cells — white blood cells that play a large role in helping your body fight disease. The fewer CD4 T cells you have, the weaker your immune system becomes. You can have an HIV infection, with few or no symptoms, for years before it turns into AIDS. AIDS is diagnosed when the CD4 T cell count falls below 200 or you have an AIDS-defining complication, such as a serious infection or cancer.
How HIV spreads
Infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions must penetrate the body to become infected with HIV. In many cases, this can happen:
By making intercourse: If you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected partner whose blood, semen, or vaginal secretions have penetrated your body, you may become infected. During sexual intercourse, the virus will enter your body through mouth sores or small tears that often form in the rectum or vagina.
By getting needles exchanged: You are at high risk for HIV and other infectious diseases, such as hepatitis, by exchanging infected IV drug paraphernalia (needles and syringes).
From transfusions of blood: The virus can be transmitted via blood transfusions in some instances. The blood supply for HIV antibodies is now tested by American hospitals and blood banks, so this risk is very limited.
During breast-feeding, pregnancy or childbirth: Mothers who are infected will pass the virus on to their kids. Mothers who are HIV-positive and receive care during pregnancy for infection will substantially reduce their child’s risk.
By blood or saliva checking, HIV may be diagnosed. Tests available include:
Antigen/antibody tests: Typically, these tests require collecting blood from a vein. Antigens are HIV virus compounds themselves which are normally detected in the blood within a few weeks of exposure to HIV, a positive test. Your immune system creates antibodies when it’s exposed to HIV. For antibodies to become detectable, it can take weeks to months. It may take two to six weeks for the combination antigen/antibody tests to become positive after exposure.
Antibody tests: 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 three to 12 weeks after you’re exposed to become positive.
Nucleic acid tests (NATs): 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 doctor may recommend NAT. NAT will be the first test to become positive after exposure to HIV.
Treatment for HIV
Treatment should start as soon as possible, regardless of viral load, after a diagnosis of HIV. Antiretroviral therapy, a mixture of regular drugs that avoid the virus from reproducing, is the primary cure for HIV. This helps defend the cells of CD4, keeping the immune system healthy enough to take disease steps. Antiretroviral care helps prevent the progression of HIV to AIDS. It also helps decrease the risk of HIV transmission to others.
The viral load would be “undetectable” when treatment is successful. The individual still has HIV, but in test results, the virus is not noticeable. The virus is still in the body, however. And if that person stops taking antiretroviral therapy, the viral load will increase again, and CD4 cells may begin to attack HIV again.
For the treatment of HIV, several antiretroviral therapy drugs are approved. They work to prevent the replication and destruction of CD4 cells by HIV, allowing the immune system to respond to infection b. This helps minimize the risk of HIV-related complications as well as the spread of the virus to others.
These antiretroviral medications are grouped into six classes:
- nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)
- non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)
- protease inhibitors
- fusion inhibitors
- CCR5 antagonists, also known as entry inhibitors
- integrase strand transfer inhibitors
Although several researchers are working to create one, no vaccine is currently available to prevent HIV transmission. Taking such precautions, however, will help prevent HIV transmission.
Anal or vaginal intercourse without a condom or other barrier form is the most common way for HIV to be transmitted. This risk cannot be entirely removed unless sex is completely prevented, however by taking a few precautions, the risk can be considerably reduced. A person concerned about their risk for HIV should:
- Get tested for HIV: It’s important they learn their status and that of their partner.
- Get tested for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs): If they test positive for one, they should get it treated, because having an STI increases the risk of contracting HIV.
- Use condoms: They should learn the correct way to use condoms and use them every time they have sex, whether it’s through vaginal or anal intercourse. It’s important to keep in mind that pre-seminal fluids (which come out before male ejaculation) can contain HIV.
- Take their medications as directed if they have HIV: This lowers the risk of transmitting the virus to their sexual partner.
- Avoid sharing needles or other paraphernalia: HIV is transmitted through blood and can be contracted by using materials that have come in contact with the blood of someone who has HIV.
- Consider PEP: A person who has been exposed to HIV should contact their healthcare provider about obtaining post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP can reduce the risk of contracting HIV. It consists of three antiretroviral medications given for 28 days. PEP should be started as soon as possible after exposure but before 36 to 72 hours have passed.
- Consider PrEP: A person has a higher chance of contracting HIV should talk to their healthcare provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). If taken consistently, it can lower the risk of acquiring HIV. PrEP is a combination of two drugs available in pill form.