Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is a combination of three words. Acquired which means any individual can be infected with it, immune deficiency meaning that the body is weakened to fight against diseases and syndrome that means the disease is not a single unit but a group of health problems. It is commonly known by many as AIDS. AIDS is caused by a virus called HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Once the body is infected with HIV, it produces antibodies that fight against HIV. In a test and the body shows presence of these types’ antibodies then one is declared HIV positive.
Many people confuse AIDS and HIV or use them interchangeably. Nevertheless, it is important to note that one could be HIV positive and not have AIDS. HIV is a virus that can cause infection in the body, while AIDS is a condition. AIDS develops when the immune system is unable to fight the HIV virus. This leaves the body prone to many other infections.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is caused by the virus HIV. HIV virus fights against the body immune system leaving it weak and unable to fight other diseases. When the immune system is too weak to fight bacteria, fungi and viruses, it develops AIDS. You cannot really “get” AIDS but you can be infected with HIV that causes AIDS.
HIV is transmitted form one person to another through vaginal fluid, blood or breast milk. The virus cannot survive on its own therefore it is not transmitted casually through sharing wine glass, handshake and sharing a swimming pool with an infected person. Most people get HIV through:
- Having unprotected sex with an infected person.
- Sharing drug needles with someone who has HIV.
- Mother to baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.
As mentioned earlier, AIDS begins with an infection of HIV. Some people who are infected with HIV may not at first cause symptoms while other show symptoms similar to flu. The most likely early symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Skin rash
- Swollen glands
- Sore muscles and joints
- Stomach ache
The virus multiplies in the body damaging the immune system. After the first flu like symptoms, some people stay healthy for up to ten years, others longer. After the many years pass, the symptoms may reappear and persist. These symptoms are:
- Extreme tiredness
- Recurring fever
- Swollen lymph glands
- Rapid weight loss
- Night sweatiness
- Diarrhea that lasts longer
- Memory loss and depression
These symptoms may be caused by other illnesses, so the only definite way to know whether you have HIV is to get tested.
If the virus is not detected early, it continues to destroy the immune system hence develop AIDS. There is no definite set of symptoms for AIDS. When the immune system is severely damaged, the body contracts infections such as cancer, tuberculosis among others. A normal immune system is able to defend against these infections but an AIDS patient cannot fight them.
There are no types of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, but there are different types of HIV that causes AIDS. All these types of HIV can cause AIDS. There are two major types of HIV;
HIV-1 is the most common virus in the world today. It has four major groups M, N, O and P. Group M is the major group that is responsible for the worlds HIV epidemic. Within it, there are at least nine subtypes.
HIV-2 is uncommon and is mostly concentrated in West African countries. It is less infectious and its rate of progress is slower than HIV-1. Treatment for this type of HIV is not clearly known.
In the past, people thought HIV and AIDS could only be transmitted and affect a particular group of people. The epidemic was confined to drug users, men who had sex with their fellow men, prostitutes and people with hemophilia. People with hemophilia got the diseases by being transfused with blood that contained HIV. Today donated blood is screened before being transfused to a patient.
In our world today HIV infection is widespread and anyone is at a risk of getting it. The list below is a list of people who are at a high risk of HIV infection:
- People with sex partners that have HIV
- Illegal drug users that share needles
- People who exchange sex for money or drugs
- People who have multiple sex partners
- People who have sex with prostitutes
- A baby that is born without medical attention by an infected mother
- Men who have sex with other men
Anyone with HIV but does not seek medical attention is at a very high risk of developing AIDS.
AIDS diagnosis is more complicated than HIV. AIDS being the final stage of the HIV infection, there are few factors that determine whether it is HIV latency or AIDS. One of the tests for AIDS is to count CD4 cells. CD4 cells are a type of white blood cells that are important part of the immune system. They are also called T-Helpers. HIV destroys these CD4 cells by multiplying itself and taking over in the body. A person who is not infected with HIV has CD4 cells ranging from 500 to 1200 everywhere. When the cells reduce to below 200, then the person is diagnosed with AIDS.
Another test for AIDS is looking for the presence of other infections in the body. These infections are known as opportunistic infections. They are diseases caused by viruses, fungi or bacteria that would not cause a personal with a normal functioning immune system get ill.
HIV can be tested by a blood test. If the blood contains the virus, the person is considered HIV positive. Testing and treating HIV earlier can be a precaution for developing AIDS.
At the time, there is no cure for AIDS, but, there are medications that fight against HIV. One of the main aims in treating AIDS is to ensure the level of CD4 cells remain as high as possible and HIV virus in the blood remains at very low levels. Prescription for medication is different for each patient depending on the stage of the disease, other health problems and the willingness to start treatment. Most of the medications administered have side effects that affect the patient differently. It is important for the patients to take the medication as prescribed by the doctor and keep in check with their doctor.
Some of the medications that the doctor may prescribe include:
- Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors: These are drugs that prevent the HIV to duplicate itself and slow it not to spread further.
- Protease Inhibitors: These drugs limit the infected cells from releasing HIV into the body.
- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor: These drugs block the HIV from infecting new cells.
- Fusion Inhibitor: These are drugs injected by a doctor. They prevent the HIV from entering into the healthy body’s cells.
Most experts’ advice that the medicines should be administered as early as possible, when the CD4 cells count is between 200 and 500. The patient and their doctor should discuss the type of medicine to be administered and when to start taking it.
You cannot tell who is infected with HIV by looking at how they look. It takes years to develop AIDS symptoms for a person infected with HIV. The most important precaution against HIV and AIDS is to avoid contact with human blood and other body fluids. Below are ways to protect yourself against HIV and AIDS:
- Do not have sex with a person who is HIV infected.
- Do not have sex with multiple partners.
- Do not share needles and syringes.
- If you do have sex, practice safer sex.
Besides getting medical treatments for HIV, it is important to take care of yourself to prevent developing AIDS. Below are home remedies for people with HIV:
- Eat healthy food that supports the immune system, gives energy and keep the body strong. Examples of healthy food include; lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.
- Get immunizations that prevent the body against infections such as flu and pneumonia. Seek your doctors’ advice before taking the immunizations.
- Avoid certain foods that may lead to foodborne diseases. Food should be well cooked. Drinking water should also be clean.
- Take care with pets since some of them carry parasites that can cause infections. Wash hands well after handling pets.