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Definition of AIDS

AIDS is a serious condition caused by the infection Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It damages a person's immune system and its ability to fight against disease.

HIV takes years to weaken a person’s immune system causing AIDS. Though there is no cure for AIDS, medications can help to slow down the development of the disease.

Causes of AIDS

AIDS is caused by HIV. HIV damages CD4 cells (a type of white blood cells) that play a vital role to fight against disease. HIV virus kills these CD4 cells weakening a person's immune system.

AIDS is contracted through sexual contact, blood transfusions, sharing common needles, breast feeding and pregnancy.

Sexual Contact

A person may get infected by HIV if they have a sexual contact i.e. vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected partner whose semen or vaginal secretion or blood enters the body.

Blood Transfusion

In few cases, HIV can be transmitted to other person through blood transfusion.

Sharing Needles

HIV can be transmitted by sharing common and contaminated needles infected with blood.

Breast-feeding and Pregnancy

Infected mothers can also infect their babies through breastfeeding or pregnancy.

Symptoms of AIDS

The symptoms vary depending on the stages of infection such as primary infection (acute HIV), clinical latent infection (chronic HIV) and early symptomatic HIV infection.

Primary Infection (Acute HIV)

A person infected by HIV may suffer from flu, fever, headache, joint pain, sore throat and swollen glands within two months after contracting the virus. Often referred to as 'primary or acute HIV infection', it may go unnoticed. But the virus spreads fast and efficiently during this stage.

Clinical Latent Infection (Chronic HIV)

In some cases, person suffers from consistent swelling of lymph glands in the chronic HIV stage. This condition lasts for almost 10 years if the person is not taking up antiretroviral therapy. The phase can continue for decades if the person takes antiretroviral medicine. In few cases, the person may progress to severe stage.

Early Symptomatic HIV Infection

As the virus further develops and continues damaging the immune system, a person may suffer from fever, fatigue, weight loss, oral yeast infection, diarrhea and shingles.

Other symptoms of AIDS include:

  • Rashes on skin or bumps
  • Night sweats
  • Persistent fever
  • White spots or unusual wounds on tongue or mouth

Risk Factors

HIV infection weakens the immune system, making the patient highly susceptible to numerous opportunistic infections and certain types of cancers.

Infectivity Common to HIV/AIDS

  • Tuberculosis (TB): In resource-poor nations, TB is the most common infection related to HIV and a leading reason of death amid people with AIDS.
  • Cytomegalovirus: This general herpes virus is spread in body fluids such as saliva, blood, urine, semen and breast milk. A strong immune system deactivates the virus, and it remains inactive in the body. If the immune system deteriorates, the virus recoups thereby causing damage to the eyes, digestive tract, lungs or other organs.
  • Candidiasis: This is a common HIV-related disease. It causes swelling and a thick, white layer on the mucous membranes of the mouth, esophagus, tongue or vagina.
  • Cryptococcal Meningitis: Meningitis is swelling of the membranes and fluid adjoining the brain and spinal cord. This is a common central nervous system infection connected with HIV, caused by a fungus found in soil.
  • Toxoplasmosis: This potentially a deadly infection that is caused by Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite transmitted mainly by cats. Infected cats transmit the parasites in their stools, and the parasites may then spread to other animals and humans.
  • Cryptosporidiosis: This illness is due to an intestinal parasite that's normally found in animals. One contracts cryptosporidiosis when they consume polluted food or water. The parasite grows in the intestines and bile ducts, leading to extreme, chronic diarrhea in individuals with AIDS.

Cancers Common to HIV/AIDS

  • Kaposi's Sarcoma: A cancer of the blood vessel walls, this is infrequent in people not infected with HIV, but common in HIV-positive people.
  • Lymphomas: This type of cancer begins in the white blood cells and typically first appears in the lymph nodes. The most generic early sign is painless inflammation of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin.

Other Complications

  • Wasting Syndrome: Aggressive management routines have decreased the number of cases of wasting syndrome, but it still affects many individuals with AIDS. It is defined as a loss of at least 10% of the body weight, often associated with diarrhea, persistent weakness and fever.
  • Neurological Complications: Although AIDS does not appear to infect the nerve cells, it can create neurological symptoms such as perplexity, absentmindedness, sadness, nervousness and trouble walking. One of the most common neurological difficulties is AIDS dementia complex, which leads to changes in behavior and reduced mental functioning.
  • Kidney Ailment: HIV-associated nephropathy (HIVAN) is a swelling of the tiny filters in the kidneys that eliminate excess fluid and wastes from the bloodstream and pass them to the urine. Because of a genetic predilection, the risk of developing HIVAN is much higher in blacks. Regardless of CD4 count, antiretroviral treatment should be commenced in those diagnosed with HIVAN.

Diagnosis of AIDS

AIDS/ HIV can be easily diagnosed by a blood or saliva test for the antibodies to the virus. It takes 12 weeks of time for the antibodies to develop and get diagnosed. Recently, a new test can quickly confirm the diagnosis sooner after infection.

Home Test

A home test option is available which is approved by Food and Drug Administration. In case of positive results, the person should see the doctor to confirm the diagnosis. If the test is negative, the person needs to repeat the test after three months.

If the result of the home test is positive, there are several other tests that help the doctor determine the stage of infection which include CD4 count, viral load and drug resistance.

In case of complications the doctor may also ask for following tests:

  • Hepatitis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Sexually transmitted infection
  • Urinary infection
  • Damage to kidney or liver

Treatment of AIDS

Although there is no cure for AIDS/ HIV, medications can retard the virus growth. There are a few classes of anti-HIV drugs that help in blocking the virus which include Protease Inhibitors (PIs), Non-nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs), Integrase Inhibitors, Nucleoside or Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) and Entry or Fusion Inhibitors.

The doctor will examine the viral load and CD4 counts to ascertain the response to treatment. Viral load should be tested at the beginning of treatment and then every quarter during therapy. CD4 counts should be monitored every three to six months.

HIV treatment should decrease the viral load to the point that it's barely discernible as it does not mean the HIV is gone. It just indicated that the test is not adequately sensitive to detect it. One can still transmit HIV to others when the viral load is undetectable.

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