HIV AIDS: Causes, Symptoms,Treatment and Myths
The National AIDS Control Organisation reported that by 2015 the number of people suffering from HIV-AIDS was 2.11 million people. However, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal states that the number of people suffering from AIDS varies between 1.4 million to 1.6 million people.
- What is HIV?
- What is AIDS?
- What is HIV-AIDS?
- Symptoms of HIV-AIDS
- Causes of HIV-AIDS
- Diagnosis of HIV-AIDS
- Treatment of HIV-AIDS
- Prevention of HIV-AIDS
- Ensure that the Needles Used on you are New or Sterilized
- Practice Safe Sex
- Blood Used for Transfusion Should be Duly Tested
- An HIV Positive Person’s Organs Should not be Used for Transplant
- Get Tested for HIV Once a Year
- An HIV Positive Person must take Antiretroviral Therapy to Prevent Transmission
- People can opt for PEP or PrEP
- Myths About HIV-AIDS
What is HIV?
HIV is an acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The human immunodeficiency virus if left untreated can several damages the immune system, ultimately leading to the development of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Unlike other viral diseases that the human immune system can fight and get rid of, that is the virus is for life. HIV attacks a type T cells in the immune system, which are known as CD4 cells. The rapid death of these cells and the development of AIDS may lead to the development and contraction of other deadly diseases like cancer or other infections. There are several myths about the spread and activation of HIV, however, the virus does not spread through touch, water, or air.
HIV has no cure as of date, although research is underway to find a cure for the virus. It is because of this research, that the disease which was sure to kill patients, can now be managed effectively, and guarantee a long life to the patients. This treatment plan is known as antiretroviral therapy.
However, if HIV develops into AIDS and still goes untreated. The disease may end up killing the patient in just three years but with treatment, that too timely treatment, a person can live for as long as a person who has never contracted human immunodeficiency virus.
What is AIDS?
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is the last phase of the infection caused by HIV. The virus attacks the immune system in such a way that when it goes untreated, it can wreak havoc on the bodies of the patients, causing severe diseases and infections. However, it is important to remember that just because a person has been diagnosed with HIV does not mean that they will definitely suffer from AIDS. If HIV is detected at an early stage, it can be managed effectively.
As we discussed before, HIV attacks and kills the CD4 cells. A healthy person’s body generally has a 500/cubic millimeter to 1500 /cubic millimeter of CD4 cell count. A person is diagnosed with AIDS when his/her CD4 cell count drops down to below 200/cubic millimeter.
Apart from the CD4 cell levels, a person can be diagnosed with AIDS if he/she has been confirmed with the presence of HIV along with suffering from opportunistic infections like pneumonia. It takes nearly a decade for HIV to convert into AIDS, which is incurable. However, HIV takes a decade to develop into AIDS under ideal conditions, if a person contracts other opportunistic diseases or develops cancer or some other unique diseases, then they might be diagnosed with AIDS, earlier.
AIDS is a sign that the immune system has been irrevocably compromised. It means that the immune system is so weak that it is not able to perform even basic defence functions, meaning that a patient is now vulnerable to parasitic or other diseases like:
- Intestinal Infections like Cryptosporidiosis
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases like a type of Herpes
- Parasitic Brain Infections like Meningitis
- Fungal Infections like Oral Thrush
In fact, while people argue that AIDS is a death spell on an individual, it is important to remember that HIV or AIDS do not directly cause death. Death is caused by the development of infections (viral, bacterial, fungal), opportunistic diseases, or cancer which further weaken the immune system, eradicating the body’s ability to fight back and heal.
What is HIV-AIDS?
AIDS cannot develop without the contraction of HIV, however, the contraction of HIV does not mean that a person will suffer from AIDS. The human immunodeficiency virus attacks the immune system of the human body making it weaker. AIDS is the highest level of the weakening of the immune system. But the disease is not just ranging between contraction of HIV and AIDS, there are several stages of the progress of HIV. Here, are the stages of HIV:
- Stage 1: This stage is known as the acute stage, which is timed as a few weeks after contracting the virus.
- Stage 2: This stage is the second stage which is known as chronic stage or clinical latency, this period can extend upto a decade, or to the point, one has the immune system which is so compromised that he/she is diagnosed with AIDS.
- Stage 3: The immune system is severely compromised at the end of 10 years, or a person is diagnosed with cancer or an opportunistic disease before the end of 10 years and the diagnosis of AIDS is confirmed.
The speed of the development of HIV varies from individual or individual, however, given that a person does not contract or develop any other diseases, untreated HIV develops into AIDS in about a decade, however, with timely treatment the progress of HIV could be arrested at the acute or chronic stage itself.
It should also be remembered that HIV cannot be cured completely, only managed and controlled. Thus, treatment can actually ensure that a person is able to lead a normal life and have a normal lifespan. The antiretroviral treatment helps increase the CD4 counts to levels which can no longer be considered as AIDS, along with reducing the instances of development of infections and diseases. Most of all it is important to remember that HIV and AIDS are not the same thing, HIV is a virus which compromises the immune system, on the other hand, AIDS is a syndrome which happens in a human body when the virus has progressed enough to cause crippling damage to the immune system.
Symptoms of HIV-AIDS
HIV in its early stages displays flu like symptoms and hence is often misdiagnosed. Here are a few common symptoms of HIV:
- Upset Stomach or Diarrhea
- Genital Ulcers
- Mouth Ulcers
- Pain in Joints and Muscles
- Sore Throat
- Oral, and Genital Yeast Infections
These symptoms of HIV may become apparent within the first two weeks of contraction, however, in most cases the symptoms take around 1-2 months after transmission. However, it could happen that some individuals do not display or experience any early symptoms of the disease. This lack of symptoms can actually continue during the entire growth cycle of HIV, however, just because a person is not showing any symptoms, it does not mean that the body has been successful in fighting off HIV, it simply means that the virus’ growth has been asymptomatic. Symptoms of HIV may also come out differently in men and women. Here are a few markers:
Symptoms of HIV-AIDS in Men
Symptoms of HIV are common for both men and women, however, there are some symptoms which are unique to men.
- Penis Ulcers
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Hypogonadism or low production of sexual hormones which is indicated by low testosterone levels.
Symptoms of HIV-AIDS in Women
As we have mentioned above, men and women generally display the same symptoms, however, here are some symptoms unique to just women. They are:
- STDs like Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and so on.
- Genital Warts
- Reproductive Organ Infections
- Irregular Menstruation, even Signs of Early Menopause
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
- Yeast Infection in the Vagina
- Bacterial Infections in the Vagina
- Cervical Cancer
Symptoms of HIV-AIDS in Children
HIV-AIDS is generally treated like an adult person disease. However, children may also contract HIV through various sources, especially from parents. Here are a few symptoms in children that we need to be aware of:
An infected baby may start showing symptoms within the first 3 months of his/her birth. The symptoms may include:
- Sickly Appearance
- Lack of Weight Gain
- Infections like Pneumonia
- Nervous System Problems
- Brain Development Issues
- Lymph Nodes Look Enlarged
- Oral Yeast Infections
If a child has contracted HIV and it goes undiagnosed and untreated then he/she may initially start showing symptoms of common cold and even some infections like EBV, which generally makes children mildly sick. In fact, in developing countries, children may also be diagnosed with Tuberculosis, which may end up in causing death.
Symptoms of HIV in teenagers is much similar to the symptoms of HIV in adults, which is to say that the teenagers may not show any symptoms for upto 10 years. But once AIDS sets in they may show symptoms like weight loss, diarrhea, pneumonia, fatigue, or inflamed lymph nodes. This means that by the time teens start showing symptoms of HIV-AIDS, they will be young adults and may be susceptible to opportunistic diseases.
Causes of HIV-AIDS
Researchers believe that the HIV virus entered the human systems in the 1920s in Africa. A different strain of HIV infects chimpanzees in Africa. It is believed that this virus entered the human system when people starts consuming chimpanzee meat. The virus mutated in the human system for survival and then spread from there on. Since the first contact between the virus and humans took place in Africa, it is believed that the virus spread throughout the continent of Africa before making its way to other parts of the world. HIV was first discovered in 1959. It is believed it entered the United States of America in 1970s, although, it spread to epidemic levels around the 1980s.
In India, HIV was first detected amongst sex workers in Chennai and has since spread throughout the country. Today, India has the second largest population of persons suffering from AIDS.
Unlike other viruses and parasites, HIV does not need an incubation period to get activated in a new host’s body, thus, it can be transmitted as soon as a person contracts the virus. In fact, during the initial weeks, researchers believe that the bloodstream has a higher number of HIV in the bloodstream, making it easier for the transfer of the virus.
This becomes especially dangerous, because the symptoms of HIV are not visible immediately, which means that the virus can be passed on to intimate partners, even children if a child is conceived during this period.
How does the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Spread?
There are several myths about the spread of HIV, including the fact that it spreads through touch or even breathing the same air as an infected person. However, none of these myths are true, HIV is spread only through one way, intermixing of bodily fluids like:
- Breast Milk
- Vaginal Fluids
- Fluids from the Rectum
These fluids and the virus can be transmitted to another person through various ways:
- Vaginal Sex with Multiple Partners (This was supposed to be the most common way of contracting HIV among sex workers in India)
- Anal Sex (Recent reports have pointed out, this as the most common cause for transmission HIV in men, especially homosexual men)
- Using the same tattoo equipments on several people without sterilizing them first
- Pregnancy, if the mother is HIV positive, she may transfer the virus to the baby
- Blood transfusion
- Organ transplant
- Using the same injection needle on multiple people.
Diagnosis of HIV-AIDS
There are several types of tests available to diagnose HIV amongst people. There are even at home kits to diagnose HIV, here are the popular types of tests:
The antigen/antibody tests are the most popular types of tests used. They are also highly accurate, even in cases of recent contraction. The test results can be positive within 18-45 days of contracting HIV, initially.These tests keep a track of the volume of antigens and antibodies in the blood. Antibodies are essential proteins, which also form the line of defence for the human body and generally, fight off several infections. Antigens are viruses which induce the antibody reaction from the immune system.
Ideally, the human body starts creating HIV antibodies within 20- 90 days of contraction, these antibodies are present in human saliva and blood, thus, an HIV antigen-antibody test only requires a mouth swab or a simple blood test which can confirm the presence of HIV virus in 30 minutes, if the test is performed at a clinic.
But antigen-antibody tests are clinic based tests, there are also some home based tests which can help diagnose the presence of HIV instantly, in case a person is unable to go to the clinic:
Oral HIV Test Kit:
This instant DIY, at home test kit, can provide results in just 20 minutes. The kit includes an oral swab and an e-test tube. A person has to swab their upper and lower gums once and then stick the swab in the e-test tube which will give results in 20 minutes.
Home kits are, however, a little risky, if an individual suspects that they might be suffering from HIV despite the home test kit saying otherwise, they could approach a clinic of their choice or wait for 3 months before redoing the test.
Treatment of HIV-AIDS
HIV treatment should begin as soon as the virus is detected in an individual, this helps increase their lifespan and quality of life. Earlier, healthcare providers used to wait till the CD4 count dropped to AIDS level before starting the antiretroviral treatment, however, recent studies have shown that antiretroviral treatment since an early detection of the virus helps maintain CD4 cell count which helps maintain the immune system strength, as well as enhance an individual’s longevity.
The antiretroviral therapy also prevents the transmission of the virus from parent to child or from person to person, thus, starting with the therapy, as soon as the virus is detected helps curb the spread of the disease.
The therapy is a lifelong process and work. The success of the therapy is reflected when subsequents tests of HIV, do not confirm any presence of HIV. This does not mean that the virus is eradicated, it simply means that the therapy has reduced the virus count to such a level that the virus has become undetectable or invisible.
It is important to remember that antiretroviral therapy uses an amalgamation of medicines to treat HIV. These medicines help maintain the immune system, prevent destruction of CD4 cells, as well as reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. There are six classes of HIV medication:
- Integrase Strand Transfer Inhibitors
- Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs)
- Entry Inhibitors like CCR5 Antagonists
- Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNTRIs)
- Fusion Inhibitors
- Protease Inhibitors
Generally, it is recommended, that a treatment regime should include at least two medicine classes, combined into a set of three medications. This kind of combination prevents the building up of drug resistance in the virus. The classes of antiretroviral medicines are combined with pills, making it easier for patients to take their medicines. Many of the antiretroviral medications are combined with others to form pills making dosage and consumption easier for patients who have to take 1-2 pills per day.
Medication and dosage must be decided by the patient in consultation with the healthcare provider, who would take the individual’s health and other contributing situations into account.
A person with HIV has to be extremely particular about the regularity of their intake of medicines, any missed pills could strengthen the drug resistance of the virus.
The antiretroviral theory may have some side effects like headaches, nausea, dizziness, and so on. However, these symptoms are short lived and eventually disappear. However, there may be some severe side effects, which can be improved upon with adjustment of medicines.
While several other countries expect the patients to pay for the therapy, India, has offered to provide immediate and free diagnosis and treatment to those in need. This policy of state funded intervention has led to a significant decline in the number of persons suffering from HIV,
Costs for antiretroviral therapy vary according to geographic location and type of insurance coverage. Some pharmaceutical companies have assistance programs to help lower the cost.
Prevention of HIV-AIDS
There is no HIV vaccine available in the world, however, researchers are attempting to come up with a vaccine to combat HIV. However, until we get the vaccine to prevent the development of HIV in our bodies, here are a few things that can be done to prevent HIV and its transmission:
Ensure that the Needles Used on you are New or Sterilized
The best way to ensure is to donate blood or even go for blood tests to places which are legitimate and known brands for honest behaviour. Insist your tattoo artists use ether sterilized tools or new needles. In fact, opt for tattoo parlors which have good reviews and are known for their brand and good practices.
HIV can be transmitted through infected razor blades used by barbers for shaving a person, so insist that your barber sterilizes the blades or uses a new one for you.
Practice Safe Sex
Using a condom is the best way to avoid several things like transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, even pregnancy. Condoms can be used for both vaginal and anal sex and should be used to avoid transmitting diseases.
Blood Used for Transfusion Should be Duly Tested
Persons who suspect they suffer from HIV should be tested for HIV before blood donation. Blood should never be taken from people who are HIV positive. In case someone doesn’t know that they are HIV positive, then the blood collected by the blood bank should be duly tested for HIV.
An HIV Positive Person’s Organs Should not be Used for Transplant
Organs before being harvested for transplant must be tested for HIV.
Get Tested for HIV Once a Year
All normally healthy, and sexually active persons should get screened for HIV once a year. They may never have HIV but this practice ensure early detection and treatment.
If a person has been tested positive for HIV then they should start with antiretroviral therapy immediately, as it will help inhibit transmission of the virus.
People can opt for PEP or PrEP
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication therapy which a person opts for if he/she suspects that they are at a risk of exposure and contraction of the virus, then this becomes a preventive step.
Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is a medicine regime a person can opt for within 72 hours of being exposed to HIV. It is a medication course of three antiretroviral medicines taken over a period of 28 days.
Myths About HIV-AIDS
HIV-AIDS as a disease has been riddled with several myths because of the most widely believed modes of transmission. Here are a few myths we would like to debunk:
- HIV can be Contracted through Proximity.
As discussed above, HIV is a virus which can only be transmitted through an exchange of bodily fluid, thus, proximity with an HIV positive person will not cause you to contract HIV. In fact, here are the things which will not cause HIV: proximity, air, sweat, touch, using the same toilet as an HIV positive person, sharing a water bottle with an HIV person, saliva, eating with the same utensils as an HIV positive person.
- HIV can be Carried by Mosquitoes.
Well, this may have some logic to it, as mosquitoes have been known to be carriers of some viruses and taking into account that mosquitoes suck blood, people are led to believe that mosquitoes can carry HIV. However, several studies have proved that mosquitoes cannot and do not carry or transmit HIV. It needs to be remembered that parasites like mosquitoes, suck a person’s blood, they do not inject blood back into the bloodstream of the host. It is also important to remember that HIV cannot last long in an independent environment and hence, dies pretty soon in mosquitoes.
- Oral Sex does not Cause HIV
This is not true, pre-semen bodily fluids can also contain HIV and can be transmitted to the body of the partner. Although, agreed that oral sex is much safer than other types of unprotected sex, with transmission rates being as low as 4, per 10000 instances or acts. Thus, condom companies have even come up with flavoured latex barriers to help prevent transmission.
- A cis-person who Doesn’t use IV Drugs will not Contract HIV.
The contraction of HIV has nothing to do with sexuality, sexual habits, or even use of IV based drugs. HIV could be transmitted through unsafe sex, or infected injections which may be used for blood tests, blood donation, transfusion, tattoo making, or through shared razor blades.
- It is Easy to Recognize an HIV Positive Person.
Untrue. HIV may not even show symptoms for 10 years, even if it does, the initial symptoms are common to other general diseases like cold and flu. You cannot know if a person is suffering from HIV unless that person comes and tells you, as HIV attacks the immune system which leads to development of other diseases, and these symptoms are visible.
- If my Partner is taking Antiretroviral (ART) Drugs then I am Safe from Transmission.
ART or antiretroviral drugs can prevent or lower the risk of HIV transmission. However, this does not mean that unsafe sex with an HIV positive person who is under therapy may still lead to contraction. Thus, it is always safe to practice safe sex.
- HIV Positive Results Mean an Early Death.
No. HIV positive results do not mean that your lifespan has been cut short. HIV takes nearly 10 years to mature into AIDS, and even with AIDS, medication therapy can help extend a person’s lifespan, enabling them to live productive and long lives.
- If both Partners are HIV- Positive, then they Don’t need to Practice Safe Sex.
HIV can have different strands, depending on how each partner’s body is responding to treatment. Mixing of bodily fluids or even further contraction of the virus may even lead to the development of some resistant strains of the virus. It is also possible that one partner may contract a resistant strain of some other disease the other partner may be suffering from.
- AIDS was a Conspiracy of the World Governments to Control Population of Minorities.
This is again not true. It is just a conspiracy theory which emerged from the United States of America because the number of HIV positive individuals was higher amongst the Latino and African-American people. However, researchers have attributed this data to other social problems like economic backwardness, lack of access to quality healthcare and so on.