What is HIV?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks and damages the cells of the immune system in the body. Impaired immunity makes an individual susceptible to other infections.
HIV infection is a lifelong condition with no cure and can lead to fatal complications. With appropriate treatment, it is now possible to manage the disease and live a long life.
If left untreated, HIV can lead to the AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) disease. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection which occurs when the body’s immune system is severely damaged because of the virus and unusual infections result. Untreated, HIV infection has a mortality of 90%.
What are the types of HIV?
The virus is classified into two main types: HIV-1 and HIV-2.
- Discovered first and is prevalent worldwide.
- It is less virulent and is mostly found in West Africa. Infection is slowly progressive and takes longer than HIV-1 to develop symptoms.
How long does it take to notice signs of HIV?
- It may take a few weeks to several months for the virus to multiply, attack the immune system, and cause symptoms.
- Symptoms appear sooner in HIV-1 and progress faster than HIV-2.
How do you get HIV?
HIV is transmitted through body fluids such as blood, semen, breast milk, and vaginal and rectal fluids. HIV can be transmitted by the following:
- Sexual intercourse (anal sex has a higher risk of transmission than vaginal sex)
- Sharing of infected needles (intravenous drug abuse) or razors
- Unsterilized tattoo needles
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Exposure to infected blood (e.g., needle stick injuries)
- Contact between open skin wounds
HIV does not spread through:
- Casual contact/skin-to-skin contact
- Saliva, tears and sweat
- Sharing food, drinks and utensils
- Insect bites
What is the first sign of HIV?
The earliest symptoms of HIV are:
What are the other signs and symptoms of HIV?
- Frequent infections.
- Poor wound healing.
- Increased susceptibility to serious infections such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs), meningitis (infection of the brain), tuberculosis, fungal infection.
- Symptoms of other disease would be more severe in HIV patients than normal patients because of the weakened immune system.
How is HIV diagnosed?
- History and physical examination by the physician
- Complete blood investigation, including specialized blood tests to detect the presence of the virus, immune status, and treatment progression.
- Specialized blood and radiological investigations to diagnose superadded infections.
How is HIV treated?
- Antiretroviral therapy (ART) for the HIV
- Antibiotics to treat additional infections
- Precautions to prevent other infections
- Vaccinations for infections that have a vaccine
- Eating healthy
What is the HIV prognosis if not treated?
If untreated, HIV infection will progress to AIDS and the mortality rate is 90 percent. Though it cannot be cured, with appropriate treatment and precautions, patients can live up to a normal life expectancy (more than 70 years).
The cause of death in HIV is usually due to serious complications from unusual “opportunistic” infections because of a weakened immune system or side effects of antiviral therapy.
How can HIV be prevented?
- Practice safe sex by using the barrier method of contraception such as condoms.
- Avoid sharing needles and razors.
- Avoid touching spilled blood.
- Ensure tattoo parlors use sterile needles.
- Transmission from mother to baby can be prevented by starting antiviral therapy early during pregnancy.
- With needle stick injuries, immediately wash and disinfect the area and visit a doctor.
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Medically Reviewed on 6/18/2020
Medscape Medical Reference