HIV / AIDS

What is HIV / AIDS?

HIV is a viral disease that suppresses the immune system. The acronym stands for human immunodeficiency virus. After about 10 to 15 years of infection, the disease can cause AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), a syndrome considered the final stage of the HIV infection.

To this day, neither HIV nor AIDS are curable. The virus is primarily spread through sexual contact and blood-to-blood contact, such as intravenous drug use or accidental contamination of donated blood. HIV also spreads from mother to child before birth and through breastfeeding.

What are the Symptoms of HIV / AIDS?

Most people do not experience symptoms during the first few years of infection, so routine testing is essential especially for people whose profession involves a constant blood (or other fluids) handling (paramedics, doctors and health-care workers in general, surgeons, tattoo artist, laboratory technicians, etc.).

HIV symptoms include

  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • General fatigue
  • Elevated temperature and sweating
  • Ulcers in the mouth

AIDS symptoms include

  • Profound and life-altering tiredness
  • Mental changes and memory loss
  • Weight loss and inability to regain weight
  • Chronic swelling of the lymph nodes
  • Pneumonia
  • Skin discoloration

Due to the reduced support of the immune system, people affected by the virus are at risk of contracting infections. Tuberculosis is the most common infection associated with HIV and primary cause of death of AIDS patients.

HIV/AIDS Causes

HIV is a viral infection that can be caused by a number of transmission types. Generally, it requires a transfer of bodily fluids from an infected person to cause the virus in someone else. This can be done by reusing medical instruments that have not been thoroughly cleaned, by an HIV positive mother breastfeeding a baby, through a fluid transfer during childbirth and through a transfer of blood from the mother to the baby during pregnancy. It is also transmitted through a number of types of sexual intercourse. Infected blood and other fluids from an infected person can also transmit the disease during a medical emergency.

To become AIDS, the virus that causes HIV weakens the immune system and kills off specific white blood cells. These CD4 cells can be killed off for years before their number becomes low enough for the disease to be considered AIDS.

How is HIV/AIDS Treated?

As with many conditions, treating HIV as early as possible is the best way to survive it as long as possible.

Treatment includes

Almost everyone in the early or latent stage of HIV goes on antiretroviral therapy when diagnosed. This is a combination of medications designed to control the spread of the virus and limit itsĀ  effects on the body.

There are six different types of drugs to balance, so it takes a skilled doctor to stay on top of the changes of a patient’s viral load. Once a person has advanced to AIDS, most treatments are palliative in addition to being life-extending.

HIV/AIDS Prevention

AIDS prevention is important on several fronts. People who work in the medical and dental fields should be vigilant about not spreading HIV, and people who are sexually active or who use drugs must also be vigilant about the spread of the virus. In the medical field, staying compliant with all of the protocol surrounding the handling of biohazards waste can generally prevent infecting themselves or other patients. The safe handling of blood and other bodily fluids should be strictly enforced, and medical and dental personnel must wash their hands frequently and wear gloves and eye protection when needed.

For those who are sexually active, using protection greatly reduces the risk of becoming infected. Having the fewest number of sexual partners possible is also recommended. For those who use IV drugs, social precautions should be taken to make sure clean needles are available and that needles are never shared among users.