Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) refers to a range of symptoms which are caused due to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIC) infection. After the infection occurs, the person usually does not experience very pronounced symptoms but may go through influenza-like symptoms. Following this, there is a long period that is typically asymptomatic. However, as the infection spreads in the body, it affects one’s immunity, making him more prone to other infections such as tumours, tuberculosis and opportunistic infections, the infections which usually do not occur in people who have a properly functioning immune system.
HIV is caused by transmission of three types: Sexual, exposure to infected blood and vertical transmission from mother to child.
1. Sexual contact: This is the most common form of transmission of the virus. If one has unprotected sex with a person who is infected with HIV, he will get the infection as well. The risk is particularly higher during anal sex. The transmission of infection basically occurs through infected bodily fluids that include fluids from genital, rectal, or oral mucous membrane. Till some time ago, the most common form of sexual contact that led to AIDS was heterosexual. However, lately, more gay and bisexual contact has led to the occurrence of AIDS in the men of the United States.
2. Exposure to infected blood: This is the second most common mode of transmission of HIV. It includes contact with infected blood through transfusion of contaminated blood, needle-sharing during drug intake or getting injected with an unsterilized equipment. However, the risk of HIV through blood is getting lower in developed countries, thanks to better screening and meticulous precautions.
3. Vertical transmission from mother to child: It is possible for HIV to transmit from the mother to her child while she is pregnant, while she is delivering the baby or through her breast milk if she is infected. However, the risk of perinatal transmission can be significantly decreased if the mother and/or the child are given antiretroviral drugs.
What does not transmit HIV
It must be noted that the infection does not spread through exposure to faeces, saliva, sputum, nasal secretions, sweat, urine, vomit or tears of an infected person unless these are contaminated by blood of the person.
Mosquitoes or any other insects also cannot transmit HIV.
There are three stages in the symptoms of an HIV infection. They are called acute infection, asymptomatic HIV and AIDS or late-stage HIV.
1. Acute infection
This phase includes the influenza-like symptoms which develop within two to six weeks of contracting the HIV infection. These symptoms occur in every four to nine cases out of ten. The symptoms of this phase include the following:
3. Muscle aches
4. Soreness in throat
5. Swollen lymph nodes
6. Pain in joints
7. Night sweats
8. Fatigue, weakness and tiredness
9. Weight loss
10. Rashes on the trunk which may or may not occur
11. Vomiting may or may not occur
12. Diarrhoea may or may not occur
2. Asymptomatic HIV
Also known as clinical latency, this is the long haul of no symptoms that follows after the initial phase of influenza-like symptoms. The person will feel absolutely fine and will not experience any symptoms. This phase can be long and may last many years, even 20 in some cases. The average length of this phase is eight years.
What happens in this phase is that your body’s immune system keeps getting damaged by the HIV strain in your body. It even begins to affect your organs.
One needs to take medication of HIV in order to prevent the virus from replicating and furthering the damage. If you don’t, then the damage continues silently for many years.
3. Late-stage HIV / AIDS
This is the most severe phase of the infection with a CD4+ T cell count below 200 cells per L. Another marker of this phase is occurrence of multiple diseases which are typically associated with an HIV infection. HIV may or may not develop to AIDS, depending on if treatment is administered in the right time or not. Almost in half the cases, it does.
The three most common and initial conditions that usually warn doctors to screen for AIDS are pneumocystis pneumonia, esophageal candidiasis and cachexia in the form of HIV wasting syndrome.
Other opportunistic infections may also be caused and which infections occur will depend on the person’s environment.
People who reach this stage of the HIV infection also become more predisposed to various cancers such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, primary central nervous system lymphoma, Burkitt’s lymphoma and cervical cancer.
Some other symptoms of this phase include the following:
2. Blurred vision
3. Fever of above 100-degree Fahrenheit
4. Dry cough
5. White spots in the mouth and on the tongue
6. Weight loss
7. Night sweats
9. Fatigue and tiredness
10. Swollen lymph nodes
There is no licensed vaccination that can prevent the deadly infection from occurring. Also, there is no cure for HIV. However, there are some easy ways that can help you prevent HIV from infecting you.
The first and the most vital aspect in prevention of this disease is awareness. If you know about the possible sources of the infection and its transmission, there are high chances that you will not contract the infection.
1. Safe sexual contact : There are multiple facets to a safe sexual contact. They include the following:
Using condoms every time you have sex and using a new one for every new session is of utmost importance.
A lot of people skip condoms when they are having oral or anal sex because these two forms of sexual contact do not lead to pregnancy. However, one must know that the chances of contracting the infection from an HIV-positive person through these two kinds of sexual contact are very high.
You must always disclose to your sexual partner if you are HIV positive. Similarly, your partner should also never hold this information from you. If you have a doubt, never hesitate to get yourself and your partner screened.
2. Consider drug Truvada: This drug is an effective measure to prevent contracting HIV if you are at a high risk position. However, it should only be taken if your doctor recommends it to you and the dosage should be as per his recommendations. It should be noted that though this medicine is also administered for HIV treatment, but that is only done along with other medications. When taken in isolation, it is only a preventive medicine and will not help if you already have the infection. Your doctor will get you screened for HIV, hepatitis B and kidney function before he prescribes this combination drug to you.
3. Always use clean needles for drugs: If you are on any drugs that need to be injected in your body, you must make sure that they are sterile, clean and unused. You must never share needles with anyone. This is because intravenous drug use is a very common factor which causes HIV transmission.
4. Avoid exposure to infected blood: This largely applies to healthcare workers who have to deal with HIV-positive patients on a day-to-day basis. They must wear proper paraphernalia which includes gloves, eyewear, masks, gowns and shields to prevent exposure to infected blood. However, if your skin gets exposed to infected blood, besides consulting a doctor, you must wash it thoroughly and frequently. It should reduce the risk factor significantly.
5. If you are pregnant or are planning pregnancy, get yourself screened immediately: The news of pregnancy must follow a thorough body check-up. In fact, the decision to have a baby needs to be followed with a check-up for HIV. This will reduce the risk factor for your baby significantly. Even if you are tested positive for HIV after you got pregnant, proper treatment and medication can reduce the risk of your baby of contracting the infection by 92 to 99 per cent.
6. Awareness: As stated above, the first step towards preventing HIV is by creating awareness about the disease. This will significantly curb risky behaviour among people.
MYTHS AND FACTS
MYTH: I can get HIV just by being around someone who has it.
FACT: This is not true because HIV cannot spread through the following:
1. Touch, hugging, shaking hands
2. Saliva, kissing, sharing food, coughs or sneezes
3. Insect bites
4. Toilet seats
5. Sweat, bathing together, using the sae gym equipment
MYTH: HIV is curable.
FACT : It is not curable. The treatment for HIV only aims at controlling the virus in the patient’s body. The treatment aims to reduce the traces of HIV in a person’s body to untraceable levels so that he can continue to live a normal life without the quality of his life getting severely affected.
MYTH : HIV is only common in gay men.
FACT : Unlike humans, HIV does not discriminate against sexual preferences, age, gender, race or class. To say or to perpetuate that HIV is only a gay man’s disease is being ignorant. The HIV cases in India are driven by heterosexual sex. In fact, it accounted for 87 per cent new cases of HIV in 2015.
MYTH : HIV means you are dead.
FACT : Earlier in 1980s, when HIV was relatively a newer infection and mankind did not know how to deal with it, many people died, leading to the conception that it is a fatal disease. However, the research that followed has led to much advancement. Today, HIV may not be curable but it sure does not mean a death sentence. People can live long and healthy lives even after being diagnosed positive for HIV by following a treatment regimen.
MYTH : HIV only occurs in promiscuous people or drug-addicts.
FACT : This myth has its roots in a didactic upbringing where having multiple affairs and indulging in drugs lead to being punished in the form of HIV. This is a very damaging myth as it implies that all the people who suffer from HIV are either promiscuous in nature or are drug-addicts or both. There are many other factors that lead to the occurrence of HIV in people (stated under causes). Such a reductive understanding and narrowing down of the situation will only make it tougher for people to neutrally see HIV and disassociate shame from it.
MYTH : I am in a monogamous relationship so I shouldn’t worry about being HIV-positive.
FACT : HIV symptoms can take many, many years to show. Having had only one partner in your life isn’t an insurance against HIV.
MYTH : Having sex with an HIV-positive person means that you will contract the virus.
FACT : If you have safe sex and use a condom, the chances of contracting the virus can easily be prevented by up to 30 per cent. Even if your partner is detected positive for HIV, this no way means that you cannot enjoy a sex life which is great and satisfying. You can consult an expert to know more about safe sex practices that prevent HIV from getting transmitted.
MYTH : I and my partner both are HIV-positive so we do not need protection during sex.
FACT : This is false because the role of protection during sex is not merely to prevent HIV from transmitting. Safe sex is very important if you want to prevent other sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, it is possible for an HIV-positive person to be reinfected with another strain of the virus. It is known as HIV reinfection. If someone gets affected by a second strain of the virus, his treatment potential goes into a spiral.
MYTH : If I am HIV-positive, I cannot ever have children.
FACT : This is false because even if you are HIV-positive, you can still have children who will have very low, almost negligible, risk of carrying your strain of HIV. Depending on which partner is HIV-positive, various conception methods and birth methods can be chosen from to reduce the risk of transmission. Also, consult an expert before going ahead with pregnancy and he will advise you drugs that will reduce the transmission risk.
In the year 2016, close to 36.7 million were tested positive for HIV. Out of these, one million cases resulted in death.
There were 300,000 fewer new HIV cases in the year 2016 as compared to 2015.
Since its discovery till 2014, AIDS has caused around 39 million deaths worldwide.
HIV/AIDS has over one million new cases in India every year.