Meaning of HIV/AIDS
AIDS (Acquired immune deficiency syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a disease caused by a virus called HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). The illness alters the immune system, making people much more vulnerable to infections and diseases. This susceptibility worsens as the disease progresses. HIV is found in the body fluids of an infected person (semen and vaginal fluids, blood and breast milk). The virus is passed from one person to another through blood-to-blood and sexual contact. In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy, delivering the baby during childbirth, and through breast feeding. HIV can be transmitted in many ways, such as vaginal, oral sex, anal sex, blood transfusion, and contaminated hypodermic needles.
Both the virus and the disease are often referred to together as HIV/AIDS. People with HIV have what is called HIV infection. As a result, some will then develop AIDS. The development of numerous opportunistic infections in an AIDS patient can ultimately lead to death. According to research, the origins of HIV date back to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century in west-central Africa. AIDS and its cause, HIV, were first identified and recognized in the early 1980s. There is currently no cure for HIV/AIDS. Treatments can slow the course of the disease – some infected people can
live a long and relatively healthy life. What causes HIV/AIDS?
HIV is a retrovirus that infects the vital organs of the human immune system. The disease progresses in the absence of antiretroviral therapy. The rate of disease progression varies widely between individuals and depends on many factors (age of the patient, body’s ability to defend against HIV, access to health care, existence of coexisting infections, the infected person’s genetic inheritance, resistance to certain strains of HIV). HIV can be transmitted through:
Sexual transmission. It can happen when there is contact with infected sexual secretions (rectal, genital or oral mucous membranes). This can happen while having unprotected sex, including vaginal, oral and anal sex or sharing sex toys with someone infected with HIV. Perinatal transmission. The mother can pass the infection on to her child during childbirth, pregnancy, and also through breastfeeding. Blood transmission. The risk of transmitting HIV through blood transfusion is nowadays extremely low in developed countries, thanks to meticulous screening and precautions. Among drug users, sharing and reusing syringes contaminated with HIV-infected blood is extremely hazardous. Thanks to strict protection procedures the risk of accidental infection for healthcare workers is low. Individuals who give and receive tattoos and piercings are also at risk and should be very careful. Myths: There are many misconceptions about HIV and AIDS. The virus CANNOT be transmitted from: shaking hands
touching unbroken skin
using the same toilet
HOW HIV/AIDS IS DIAGNOSED
A 2011 report issued by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), USA, found that about 1 in every 5 HIV-positive Americans is unaware of their HIV-status, and only 49% of those who are aware receive ongoing medical care and treatment. HIV blood test
Diagnosis is made through a blood test that screens specifically for the virus. If the HIV virus has been found, the test result is “positive”. The blood is re-tested several times before a positive result is given to the patient. For those whose tests came back positive, they will be asked to undergo some other tests to see how the infection has progressed, and also to decide when to start treatment. If a person has been exposed to the virus, it is crucial that they get tested as soon as possible. The earlier HIV is detected, the more likely the treatment will be successful. Also, precautions can be taken to prevent the virus from spreading to other people. After infection with HIV, it can take up from three weeks to three months for the virus to show up in testing. Re- testing may be necessary. If a patient’s most at risk moment of becoming HIV infected was within the last three months, he/she can have the test immediately. However, a good doctor will urge that another test be carried out within a few weeks.
THE TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR HIV/AIDS
Earlier HIV antiretroviral treatment is crucial – it improves quality of life, extends life expectancy and reduces the risk of transmission, according to the World Health Organization’s new guidelines issued in June 2013. When an HIV-positive adult’s CD4 cell count is 500 cells/mm3 or lower they should start treatment immediately. According to Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General “These guidelines represent another leap ahead in a trend of ever-higher goals and ever-greater achievements. With nearly 10 million people now on antiretroviral therapy, we see that such prospects – unthinkable just a few years ago – can now fuel the momentum needed to push the HIV epidemic into irreversible decline.” Currently, there is no vaccine or cure for HIV/AIDS. But treatments have evolved which are much more efficacious – they can improve patients’ general health and quality of life considerably. Emergency HIV pills. If an individual believes they have been exposed to the virus within the last 72 hours (three days), anti-HIV medication, called PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) may stop infection. The treatment should be taken as soon as possible after contact with the virus.
PEP is a very demanding treatment lasting four weeks. It is also associated with unpleasant side effects (diarrhea, malaise, nausea, weakness and fatigue). After a positive HIV diagnosis, regular blood tests are necessary to monitor the progress of the virus before starting treatment. The therapy is designed to reduce the level of HIV in the blood. Antiretroviral drugs. HIV is treated with antiretrovirals (ARVs). The treatment fights the HIV infection and slows down the spread of the virus in the body. Generally, patients take a combination of medications called HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy). The combination of drugs is adapted to each individual. HIV treatment is usually permanent and lifelong. HIV treatment is based on routine dosage. Pills must be taken on a regular schedule, every time. Common side effects include nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, skin rashes, moodiness, alterations to the adipose (fat) tissue, birth defects. PREVENTION
Unprotected sex. Having sex without a condom can put a person at risk of being infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). HIV can be spread by having unprotected sex (vaginal, oral and anal sex). It can also be caught from sharing sex toys with someone infected with HIV.
Drug abuse and needle sharing. Intravenous drug use is an important factor in HIV transmission in developed countries. Sharing needles can expose users to HIV and other viruses, such as hepatitis C.
Strategies such as needle-exchange programs are used to reduce the infections caused by drug abuse. Body fluid exposure. Exposure to HIV can be controlled by employing precautions to reduce the risk of exposure to contaminated blood. At all times, health care workers should use barriers (gloves, masks, protective eyewear, shields, and gowns). Frequent and thorough washing of the skin immediately after being contaminated with blood or other bodily fluids can reduce the chance of infection. Pregnancy. Anti-HIV medicines can harm the unborn child. But an effective treatment plan can prevent HIV transmission from mother to baby. Precautions have to be taken to protect the baby´s health. Delivery through caesarean section may be necessary. Breastfeeding may have to give way to bottle-feeding if the mother is infected.
A study by scientists from Columbia University, New York, found that breastfeeding for 6+ months with antiretroviral therapy could help reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission as well as improve chances of infant’s survival. Education. Health education is an important factor in reducing risky behavior.