HIV Infection and AIDS

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is the virus that causes the disease known as AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV is a viral infection that attacks the T-cell lymphocytes of the human immune system. If left untreated, HIV will kill enough T-cells so that the body cannot fight off infection. Patients who have AIDS, suffer from "opportunistic infections." Opportunistic infections take advantage of the patient's weak immune system, and cause illness.

RISK FACTORS

  • Direct contact with blood or other body fluids.

  • Unprotected sexual intercourse.

  • Sharing of contaminated needles.

  • Blood transfusions.

  • Infants whose mothers were infected, during pregnancy or through breast milk.

SYMPTOMS

  • Sometimes, no symptoms.

  • Flu-like symptoms.

  • Repeated severe yeast infections in mouth or vagina, despite treatment.

  • Swollen lymph nodes.

  • Muscle pain.

  • Joint pain.

  • Persistent diarrhea.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Weight loss.

  • Frequent opportunistic diseases:

  • Kaposi's sarcoma.

  • Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP)

  • Tuberculosis.

  • Meningitis.

  • Herpes simplex infections.

  • Blurry vision.

  • Loss of vision.

PREVENTION

  • Know the sexual history of any new sexual partner.

  • Use safe sex practices, with barrier protection.

  • Avoid having multiple sexual partners.

  • Avoid direct contact with blood or other body fluids, by using gloves, goggles, and masks when you might encounter them.

  • Do not share needles.

TREATMENT

HIV and AIDS have no known cure. However, with early diagnosis and proper treatment, one can live a relatively healthy and long life. Treatment is directed at decreasing the level of virus in the body (viral load). To decrease the viral load, patients are given antiviral medicines. Patients are also given preventive care for many opportunistic diseases, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis, tetanus, hepatitis B, pneumococcal infections, and influenza. Opportunistic infections are also treated as they develop.