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HIV infection

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a retrovirus that affects the cells of immune system, thereby leading to complete destruction of body’s immunity.

It’s a slow disease that can take 10-15 years to develop the final stage i.e. AIDS.

What’s the mode of infection?

The human immune deficiency virus attacks the while blood cells (CD4+ cells) of the immune system. The virus replicates rapidly and after a certain span, the body loses its ability to fight infections due to massive destruction of the immune system.

The final stage of HIV infection is AIDS which is characterized by very low count of CD4+ cells in the immune system and it can be fatal.

Symptoms of HIV infection

Primary HIV infection phase

There may not be any symptoms of an initial HIV infection. However after 3-8 weeks of infection, the virus will cause flu like symptoms characterized by:

The asymptomatic latent phase

This stage is called the silent phase or clinical latent phase, wherein no symptoms are exhibited. This stage can last for 10 years and the affected person may not be aware of HIV infection. Only the glands remain swollen persistently.

Early symptomatic HIV infection

The HIV disease gradually manifests in the third phase of infection and the following symptoms show up very often:

  • Frequent fever
  • Swelling of lymph nodes
  • Weight loss
  • Shingles

AIDS- Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome

When a person fails to receive the much needed treatment for HIV infection, it progresses to the last stage i.e. AIDS, wherein the body becomes completely vulnerable to infections. The typical symptoms are:

  • Night sweats
  • High fever with chills
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Blurry vision
  • Abnormal fatigue
  • Lesions in mouth and tongue
  • Random weight loss
  • Associated complications- TB, cancer, STDs, etc.

What is HIV infection transmitted?

The virus spreads through blood, semen, wounds, and genital secretions. A healthy person gets infected with the virus while coming in contact with the HIV infected person in the following ways:

  • Sexual contact – oral sex, unprotected sexual intercourse and anal sex
  • The virus can enter in the body through open oral or genital sores
  • Blood transfusion with an unscreened HIV infected blood
  • Sharing needles used by HIV infected person
  • Unborn babies can acquire HIV infection if the mother is carrying the virus

Diagnosis of HIV infection

  • HIV ELISA and HIV Western blot tests to confirm presence of HIV antibodies in the blood
  • White blood cell differential analysis and Complete Blood Count tests to determine the viral load in the body

Treatment of HIV infection

Treatment involves controlling viral replication and increasing the immunity of the body with anti-HIV drugs and lifestyle changes. Treatment begins when CD4 count falls below 500 cells/mm3.  It’s vital for the patient to take all the doses correctly to re-build his immune system.

Other complications like tuberculosis, candidiasis, herpes virus infections, cancers, etc. are also simultaneously treated to improve the health of the patient.

Lifestyle Changes to Cope with HIV infection

  • Improve immunity of the body by consuming healthy food.
  • Do yoga and follow breathing techniques to boost the immune system
  • Keep yourself protected from cold and flu
  • Stop consuming tobacco products, especially smoking

Prevention of HIV infection

  • Make sure you know whether your partner is HIV free or HIV infected
  • Couples can get screened for HIV
  • Using condoms is a must while having oral and sexual intercourse
  • Make sure the needle used on you is new and sterile. Never share
  • Get yourself treated first for HIV infection before conceiving baby

Remember HIV infection is not a social taboo. The infected person is just normal as any other individual, except one must be absolutely aware of the preventive measures to check spread of the virus.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta

Date last updated: January 17, 2015