As per the estimates by the WHO and the UNAIDS, at the end of the year 2008, 33.4 million people were living with HIV infection. Around 2.7 million people across the world became newly affected that same year, and including 2,80,000 children, 2.0 million people died because of AIDS. HIV and AIDS pose a great challenge to the modern world, therefore, it’s absolutely essential to spread awareness about this disease and take preventive measures.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV is a lentivirus, a genus of viruses with a long incubation period. It takes times to grow in the body from the initial infection to the onset of symptoms. The time may vary from five years to fifteen years. HIV damages the immune system of the body infecting the CD4+T cells. The infection dangerously increases the risk of getting affected by serious diseases or other infections.
The final stage of this viral disease is termed as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the European Centre for the Epidemiological Monitoring of AIDS (EuroHIV). The term AIDS applies to the most advanced stages of HIV infection, defined by the occurrence of any of more than 20 opportunistic infections or HIV-related cancers. Here, one thing is to be kept in mind that even if a person is an HIV-positive, he/she may not have AIDS.
How does it affect the human immune system
HIV is a retrovirus which reproduces itself inside the cell. It destroys the CD4 +T cells, which give protection to the body against any type of infection. When these cells are under attack, the body finds it extremely difficult to combat the virus. The virus rapidly releases copies of itself into the blood and the CD4+T cells eventually stop working, and the immune system of the body breaks down completely.
How does it get transmitted
It is transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids like blood and semen. Therefore, unprotected anal, oral or vaginal sex is one of the prime reasons of transmission of this virus. The other ways in which the infection spreads are transfusion of infected blood or blood products, use of needles and instruments used by infected person without sterilization or sharing of needles and syringes by HIV drug addicts, from infected mother to her baby during pregnancy, delivery and through breast feeding.
How it doesn’t get transmitted:
Lack of awareness about how this virus gets transmitted leads to discrimination in the society. Therefore, it’s extremely important to know that HIV is not transmitted through casual contact like touching, kissing, through sweat, tears or urine. It is also not spread by sharing towels, bedding, utensils, swimming pool or toilet seats.
During the initial stages of the infection following symptoms can be observed:
- Sore throat
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Swollen glands
- A blotchy rash
Often very mild, these symptoms go away with time and medication. But it doesn’t mean that the body is free from this deadly virus. During the final stage of the infection, known as AIDS, the patient may display the following symptoms:
- Night sweats
- Unexpected weight loss
- Persistent tiredness
- Persistent diarrhoea
- Blurred vision
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- White spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue, in the mouth or in the throat.
- A fever of above 100ºF (37ºC) which lasts for a number of weeks
- Swollen glands for more than three months
- Memory loss, depression and other neurological disorders
There is no cure or vaccination for HIV or AIDS. However, the treatment can slow down the growth rate of the virus and save patient’s immune system from further damage. The drugs which are used to treat HIV/AIDS are antiretroviral and anti-HIV or anti-AIDS drugs
If the patient is given only one drug, the virus may quickly develop resistance against it, and the drug will no longer have its effect on the virus. Therefore, taking two or more antiretrovirals reduces the rate at which resistance would develop. This therapy is known as the Combination Therapy. This treatment is also sometimes referred to as Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART).
- Abstain from sex until marriage
- Be faithful to your partner
- Consistently and correctly use condoms
- Do not share needles for blood transfusion, tattoos, body piercing or injecting drugs in the body.