HIV and AIDS. Probably the most misunderstood, yet one of the deadliest silent threats we face today. And it’s not something that we can shut our doors to and think we’re safe. That doesn‘t work, like it didn’t for the Black Death. It sounds ominous but HIV/AIDS just can’t be ignored. With approximately 34 million people infected worldwide, not anymore.
The overall perception of HIV and HIV positive people carries so many misconceptions. The biggest one is that everyone thinks that it’s someone else’s problem. It’s not restricted to any segment of the population. You can be infected just as easily, whether you’re rich or poor, whether or not you’re straight. And unless we have enough awareness, it’s only going to get worse.
HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The most common route of transmission is through unprotected sex, the next being through sharing of needles between infected persons, or more simply, contaminated needles. It’s possible through infected blood transfusions or from a mother to the fetus, but it’s rare.
Once the virus enters the bloodstream, it starts working on multiplying. Since it’s a retrovirus, it can make the infected person’s lymphocytes produce viral DNA, and replicates. These lymphocytes are normally the body’s line of defense, but now they’ve been reassigned by the HIV virus, which leaves the patient immunocompromised. This means that low level infections which can’t harm a normal person, can attack the patient easily, leaving him sick all the time.
The more dangerous part is the silent window phase. Only about 15% of infected persons develop active symptoms in the first 1-2 months after exposure. The rest will go about their lives seemingly the same, for up to 15 years, during which they will still be infectious. And infecting, spreading the disease, wherever they have unprotected sex. This period is usually an average of 7-8 years, and shows clinical features of Stages 1 and 2 (see below).
If the infection isn’t caught during routine screenings or lab investigations, then it’s only diagnosed when its developed into full blown AIDS, that is, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. This includes a number of other diseases and opportunistic infections, since body’s defense mechanism has been effectively crippled by viral targeting. This usually happens in Stage 3 and Stage 4, detailed below.
Clinical Stage 1
Acute viral illness in about 15% cases.
Enlarged lymph nodes in some cases.
Clinical Stage 2
Moderate unexplained weight loss, recurring sore throats.
Fever, cough, colds, repeated fungal nail infections.
Clinical Stage 3
Severe unexplained weight loss, chronic diarrhea, yeast infections, tuberculosis, and severe bacterial infections.
At this stage, disease causing bacteria and fungi can easily bypass whatever is left of the immune system.
This is the start of the terminal stage of the AIDS complex.
Clinical Stage 4
Muscle wasting, chronic Herpes, spread of tuberculosis and recurrent pneumonias to the brain, meninges, skin, continuous abdominal pain and diarrhea, oesophagitis,and malignancies like Kaposi’s sarcoma, CMV infection and HIV related Lymphomas.
All this sounds scary and portentous but really, it’s just a disease. Like all diseases it has a prevention and a cure. As the well known statement goes, prevention is infinitely better than the cure. Here’s what all of us need to be careful about:
–Use protection. Unless you’re one hundred percent sure your partner has a clean bill of health, use condoms. Birth control pills will protect you from pregnancy but that’s it. They aren’t a barrier for HIV. Safe sex is your best defense.
–Needle sharing. I know there’s people out there struggling with various addictions, but please, don’t make it worse for yourself. AIDS will sneak up on you long after you’re clean. Do not share needles in a group. In fact, try to abstain from any and every form of intravenous drug abuse.
This holds true for health care as well. You might be at the hospital for a routine flu shot. It’s perfectly okay to ask the nurse or orderly to show you the needle in its original packaging before you’re injected. If you already are HIV positive, or friends with someone who is, don’t worry. With proper management and treatment, you or they can have a perfectly normal life. Here’s some tips on that:
–Eat a nutritious, balanced diet with moderate exercise. This will improve your overall health and also slow the progression from HIV to AIDS. Regular exercise will help in keeping chronic diseases at bay.
–Quit smoking. Studies have shown symptoms are more severe in smokers vs. non smokers.
–Say no to drugs. Not only do coke and heroin damage your system, but some others like amphetamines actually help the virus move faster through your blood. And if you’re sharing needles, you’re probably going to infect more people.
–Take your medication religiously. Your pills are going to be the backbone of your immunity now. With therapy and good hygiene, you’ll be able to keep most infections away.
–Safe sex. HIV doesn’t mean that someone’s an outcast. They can still have a social and sexual life, still have children, still do everything a non infected person can.
HIV isn’t the end of the world. Contrary to what we hear, it’s not the scourge of the LGBT community. Nor is it transmitted by touching, hugging, or even kissing. All we need is awareness, understanding, and acceptance. The stigma linked to AIDS has to go. An HIV positive person is still a person, and that’s something we should all remember.
Ref:- Matthews UG Medicine,
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