No other ailment, not even leprosy, carries as much social stigma as AIDS. Part of the reason is that it is usually sexually transmitted, and initially, was identified mostly among drug addicts and the gay community. This factor, unfortunately, led to the governmental agencies carry an unsympathetic attitude towards the ailment. It wasn’t till AIDS developed epidemic proportions in the 1990s that governments began to wake up to the threats to the population in general. Given that AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection; such a patient has a very poor life expectancy.
Slow torture: Left untreated, it might take anything from 10-15 years for HIV to progress to the AIDS condition. Much depends on the patient’s overall health status, age, and sex. Without antiretrovirals, HIV makes it increasingly difficult for the body to combat diseases and infections.
AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome which is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition as HIV undermines your immune system by attacking, and destroying T-helper cells, also known as CD4 cells. It is the most dangerous viral infection identified till date as it is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The HIV strain can alter the immune system which intensifies the risks and effect of diverse infections. It is this susceptibility to infections which is a sign of probable HIV infection.
Unfortunately, HIV positive patients get little or no health insurance coverage once their condition is identified, leaving them with little or no option for treatment. Without appropriate, and sustained treatment, death looms large. HIV/AIDS cannot be cured, but only managed. This underscores the necessity of access to high-quality, clean health care.
Bodily fluids like semen, vaginal secretions, blood, anal fluids, and breast milk can pass HIV infection. Some people confuse bodily fluids to include urine, sweat, tears, and saliva. However, these are not purveyors of HIV. Therefore, you will not get infected if you shake hands with someone, hug an infected person, or scour their dishes. If contaminated blood is used for transfusion, the patient can get HIV infection. Similarly, the newborn baby can be infected from the mother’s blood, and from her breast milk; or reusing hypodermic needles to inject medicines, steroids, hormones or get a tattoo which might be infected serve to jeopardize people’s health.
It is essential to keep in mind that HIV is not air borne or water borne. Therefore, breathing the same air as an infected person will not be contagious. It cannot be passed on through mosquito bites even though HIV infection is blood borne. Sneezing, kissing on the cheek, shaking hands, sharing cutlery, a toilet or towels, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or other forms of casual contact cannot pass on HIV infection. A person, who has been on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment long enough to reduce the level of HIV in the body to such low levels that it becomes undetectable in blood tests, cannot pass on HIV to another person.
People with a robust constitution, who got infected from unprotected sex, might not display any symptoms for months, even years. However, people who do display symptoms usually do so after infection from parasites, fungi, other viruses or bacteria. This happens because HIV disrupts the body’s ability to combat infection. Don’t brush away recurring fever, sore throat, chills, varied aches and pains, sudden night sweats, unexplained weight loss, rashes, swollen/enlarged glands, and exhaustion even when you haven’t indulged in any hectic work.
Symptoms at the AIDS stage include blurred vision, white spots on the tongue or mouth, swollen glands or a fever of over 100° F (37° C) lasting for weeks; diarrhea, which is usually persistent or chronic; unintentional weight loss; permanent tiredness, dry cough, night sweats, shortness of breath, or dyspnea. If taken within three days of probable exposure, anti-HIV medications, called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), may be able to stop infection. These symptoms can be mitigated by antiretroviral medications that fight the HIV infection, and slow down the spread of the virus in the body.
Using three or more drugs together, termed combination therapy, has helped to control this issue of drug resistance; but new drugs are required because of the continuing emergence of drug-resistant HIV strains. Fungal infections are a cause of high morbidity and mortality in immunocompromised persons, such as those with HIV/AIDS. You need to be wary of resistant strains of the HIV virus which might emerge rapidly if only one antiviral drug is used.
Despite the fact that there is no cure for HIV, people living with it can enjoy long and healthy lives with the right treatment and support. To do this, it’s especially important for them to commit to taking treatment correctly. Adhering to the treatment regimen is vital to bring the infection level down to make it undetectable in a blood test. However, some people abandon their treatment regimen due to the distressing side-effects they experience.
1st December is observed annually as World AIDS Day to honor those who lost their lives to this dreadful disease.