HIV is an infection that strikes fear in the heart of people when mentioned. There are more than 100,000 infected people in the UK. There is no cure for HIV, but it is by no means a death sentence. With proper management and early diagnosis, people infected with HIV can still have long and healthy lives.
Read on to find out more about HIV, including its stages of infection, symptoms, causes, modes of transmission, and treatment options.
HIV is an acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that attacks the immune system of the body. With a weakened and compromised immune system, other illnesses and infections can easily enter the body.
HIV was first discovered in 1981, and the number of cases since then have only risen. The virus can be found in the blood and other body fluids, like blood, semen, breast milk, anal mucus, and vaginal fluid. It is transmitted by the entrance of an infected person’s body fluids to a non-infected person. HIV cannot be contracted through hugging, shaking, kissing, and other body contacts, as long as there is no exchange of the body fluids mentioned above.
There are four stages of HIV. They are:
1. Infection stage (Seroconversion illness)
After getting the virus, one usually experiences a brief illness. Many don’t read too much into this. This is when the virus is most contagious.
2. Asymptomatic stage
At this stage, the mild sickness is gone, and the patient feels okay. However, the virus is still actively working, destroying the body’s immune system.
3. Symptomatic stage
Sickness is back at this stage. As a result of the weakened immune system, many infections begin to come in.
4. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)
This is the final stage of HIV. At this stage, visible changes are seen in the carrier, such as pronounced weight loss. Illnesses like cancer, tuberculosis, and pneumonia also begin to spring up.
Symptoms of HIV
At the early stage of the virus, symptoms like fever, sore throat, rashes, excessive tiredness, etc., can occur. If it is not looked into or treatment is not started on time, other symptoms like dry cough, weight loss, sweating, headache, and mouth ulcers begin to pop up. Many other illnesses also start to appear as the immune system is already weak. However, a lab test has to be carried out to confirm HIV status.
Causes and transmission of HIV
HIV is a virus that resides in the blood. It is contracted when the blood of an infected person gets into the bloodstream of an uninfected person. This could happen through the following.
1. Unprotected sex
Having unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV patient can lead to the transmission of the virus. Using condoms prevent the exchange of body fluids and thus, reduces the chances of getting the virus.
2. Sharing of sharp objects
Sharing of sharp objects, like blade, clippers, and any other things that can pierce the body can lead to the transmission of HIV. If the object or instrument is stained with the infected person’s blood, and a non-infected person uses the item, also resulting in piercing, HIV is transferred. The blood on the object does not have to be visible for transmission to occur. Therefore, all sharp objects should be sterilized using alcohol, fire, or UV sterilization devices.
3. Transfusion of an infected person’s blood
If an accident or any other situation results in excessive blood loss, a blood transfusion may be required. Going ahead to do this without proper examination can lead to infected blood transfusion, ultimately infecting the receiver.
4. Mother to child transmission
During childbirth, the baby comes in contact with the mother’s blood and can get infected if the mother is a carrier. The child can also contract it during breastfeeding.
Treatment of HIV
There is no proven cure for HIV. However, research is still going on. HIV patients are advised to take antiretrovirals to prolong their life. Antiretrovirals slow down the action and reproduction of the virus in the body, giving the cells time to heal.
The drugs prescribed vary from one patient to another, as different medications work for different people. As such, all patients need to see a doctor before drugs can be used. Doctors carry out a viral load test to determine the amount of virus present in the blood before prescribing medications.
After some time, about six months, of regular medication, the virus should reach a non-detectable stage. At this stage, it can no longer be transferred to others. Treatment for HIV has been made available and free for all residents of the UK.
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