Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system, resulting in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Infection affects our ability to fight diseases and infections.
HIV spreads by unprotected sex or through infected blood. It may also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy.
Infection with HIV often takes years to reach the advanced stage called AIDS. It is considered to be AIDS only when the T-cell count is less than 200, or when they develop certain infections and cancer. Thus, all people who have HIV may not have AIDS.
There is complete cure for AIDS, but it can be treated. If diagnosed and treated early, people with HIV infection may not develop AIDS. Despite the development of medications and treatment, many countries still have large number of deaths due to this infection.
HIV infection progresses phase-wise with characteristic symptoms in each stage.
Initial stage of the infection, when the virus gains access into the body, is characterized by flu-like symptoms. The person may have fever, head ache, body pain, sore throat and swollen lymph glands. These symptoms often go unnoticed as they are misunderstood for a normal flu. The infection enters into a latent phase in about 10 years during which the patient remain asymptomatic. If detected, treatment can help to prevent the progress of the disease into a more advanced and life-threatening stage.
As the virus continues its multiplications inside the blood cells, it attacks the immune system and results in characteristic symptoms like diarrhea, weight loss, fever, thrush, and herpes.
The immune system is damaged and this makes the body susceptible to many infections. This stage represents the transformation of HIV infection to AIDS.
Number of infections define AIDS including Kaposi’s sarcoma, dementia, severe malnutrition, tumors in brain and spinal cord, fungal infections, and infections of lungs.
HIV is caused by contact with infected bodily fluids such as blood, semen, or vaginal fluids. This most commonly happens through unprotected sex.
The main route of infection is through infected person’s body fluids like blood, semen, and fluids from vagina. The virus from the infected body fluid enters the blood through the thin linings within the body or through a broken skin.
Some of the common ways by which this disease is spread includes having unprotected sex, and by sharing needles to take drugs. It may also be transmitted through blood transfusions. Infection may spread from infected mother to baby during delivery, or through breast-feeding.
Using intravenous drugs, having unprotected sex, and having a sexually transmitted disease increases the risk of HIV and AIDS.
4 Making a Diagnosis
Testing for HIV antigen is the confirmatory diagnosis for HIV. A person develops HIV antibodies by 12 weeks. Testing the saliva or blood for the presence of these antibodies help to diagnose this infection. To identify the stage of the disease, other tests are helpful.
CD4 count – CD4 is a T-cell that is attacked by HIV. When the CD4 count in the blood falls below 200, the disease progresses to AIDS.
Viral load – This is a general test to measure the amount of virus in the blood.
This disease is associated with several complications like hepatitis, toxoplasmosis, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections, and urinary tract infections. Specific tests are recommended to diagnose these complications.
The treatment process for HIV/AIDS is complicated and depends on the person. Speak with your doctor to develop the best plan for you.
Medications are used to slow down or stop the progression of viral infections.
Combination of different drugs that block the virus is known as Antiretroviral therapy (ART). Taking a combination of drugs prevents the virus from developing resistance to a specific treatment.
Being compliant with the medication is very important for successful treatment of the condition. It may have a number of side effects including nausea, skin rashes, diarrhea, and weak bones.
Disease progression is assessed by checking the viral load periodically. The viral load gradually reduces to a level that is often difficult to detect through the test. The virus may still be present in the blood, and can be transmitted to others.
Using condoms for sex and not sharing equipment like syringes, spoons and swabs, are the best way to prevent HIV and AIDS. Knowing the HIV status of the partner also helps in preventing the spread.
Having unprotected sex and sharing needles for taking drugs increase the risk of developing HIV infection.
Those who are HIV-positive should take ART to reduce the risk of transmitting infection to sexual partners.
7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies
A few alternative and homeopathic remedies are used for HIV and AIDS.
Alternative therapies focus on strengthening the immune system, providing relief from symptoms and also to improve the quality of life. Homeopathic medicine silicea was found to have good effects on stimulating the immune system to fight infections and diseases.
Some other commonly indicated homeopathic medicines for HIV and AIDS are Sulphur, Tuberculinum, Syphilinum, Silica, Kali carbonicum, Phosphorus, Calcaria iodum, Arsenic album, Arsenic iodum, Bacillinum.
Naturopathic medicines use the positive healing forces to make the body healthy. Physical therapies like yoga, acupuncture, chiropractic system and massage therapy are also used to promote healing and to improve health. Some supplements like acetyl-L-carnitine and whey protein may help in reducing the side effects of ART.
8 Lifestyle and Coping
Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with HIV and AIDS.
Taking ART is important to cure the infection and to improve the quality of life.
In addition, one should also give importance to keep oneself healthy through healthy eating, immunizations, and keeping engaged in interesting activities.
Many services and programs are now available to cope with this deadly disease. Several support groups are also available to understand and discuss the issues associated with the disease.
9 Risks and Complications
There are several complications associated with HIV and AIDS.
As the immune system is weak, it may lead to a number of complications including:
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