Human immunodeficiency virus – HIV – AIDS
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes HIV infection and AIDS. The virus attacks the immune system. As the immune system weakens, the body is at risk of getting life-threatening infections and cancers. Once a person has the virus, it stays inside the body for life.
HIV infection; Infection – HIV; Human immunodeficiency virus; Acquired immune deficiency syndrome
- The virus is spread (transmitted) person-to-person in any of the following ways:
- Through sexual contact — including oral, vaginal, and anal sex
- Through blood — by blood transfusions (now extremely rare in the U.S.) or more often by needle sharing
- From mother to child — a pregnant woman can spread the virus to her fetus through their shared blood circulation, or a nursing mother can pass it to her baby through her breast milk
The virus is NOT spread by:
- Casual contact such as hugging
- Participating in sports
- Touching items that were touched by a person infected with the virus
HIV and blood or organ donation:
- HIV is not spread to a person who donates blood or organs. People who donate organs are never in direct contact with people who receive them. Likewise, a person who donates blood is never in contact with the person receiving it. In all these procedures, sterile needles and instruments are used.
- But HIV can be spread to a person receiving blood or organs from an infected donor. To reduce this risk, blood banks and organ donor programs check (screen) donors, blood, and tissues thoroughly.
People at high risk of getting HIV include:
- Drug users who inject and then share needles
- Infants born to mothers with HIV who did not receive HIV treatment during pregnancy
- People who have unprotected sex, especially with people who have other high-risk behaviors, are HIV-positive, or have AIDS
- Sexual partners of those who engage in high-risk activities (such as injection drug use or anal sex)
- After HIV infects the body, the virus has been found in many different fluids and tissues in the body.
- Only blood, semen, fluids from the vagina, and breast milk have been shown to transmit infection to others.
- The virus may also be found in saliva, tears, nervous system tissue, spinal fluid, and blood.
Symptoms related to acute HIV infection (when a person is first infected) are often flu-like. They include:
- Mouth sores, including yeast infection (thrush)
- Muscle stiffness or aching
- Night sweats
- Rashes of different types
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph glands
Many people have no symptoms when they are diagnosed with HIV.
Acute HIV infection progresses over a few weeks to months to become an asymptomatic HIV infection (no symptoms). This stage can last 10 years or longer. During this period, the person can still spread the virus to others.
If they are not treated, almost all people infected with HIV will develop AIDS. A small group of patients with HIV develop AIDS very slowly or never. These patients are called nonprogressors. Many seem to have genes that prevent the virus from causing major damage to their immune system.
People with AIDS have had their immune system damaged by HIV. They are at very high risk of getting infections that are uncommon in people with a healthy immune system. These infections are called opportunistic infections.
Common symptoms are:
- Sweats (particularly at night)
- Swollen lymph glands
- Weight loss
Exams and Tests
- The HIV ELISA and HIV Western blot tests detect antibodies to the HIV virus in the blood.
- Antibodies are proteins the body’s immune system makes when it detects harmful substances, such as the HIV virus.
- Both tests must be positive to confirm an HIV infection.
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- White blood cell differential and may also show abnormalities.
People with AIDS usually have regular blood tests to check their CD4 cell count:
- CD4 cells are a type of T cell. T cells are one kind of immune system cell. They are also called “helper cells.”
- A lower than normal CD4 cell count may be a sign that the virus is damaging the immune system. (A normal CD4 count is from 500 to 1,500 cells/mm3 of blood.)
- When the CD4 count gets too low, the risk of infections and some types of cancer increase.
Other tests that may be done include:
- HIV RNA level, or viral load, to check how much HIV is in the blood
- Pap smear to check for cervical cancer
- Anal pap smear to check for cancer of the anus
- Do not use illegal drugs and do not share needles or syringes. Many communities now have needle exchange programs, where you can get rid of used syringes and get new, sterile ones. Staff at these programs can also refer you for addiction treatment.
- Avoid contact with another person’s blood. If possible, wear protective clothing, masks, and goggles when caring for people who are injured.
- If you test positive for HIV, you can pass the virus to others. You should not donate blood, plasma, body organs, or sperm.
- HIV-positive women who plan to get pregnant should talk to their health care provider about the risk to their unborn child. They should also discuss methods to prevent their baby from becoming infected, such as taking medicines during pregnancy.
- Breastfeeding should be avoided to prevent passing HIV to infants through breast milk.
- Safer sex practices, such as using latex condoms, are effective in preventing the spread of HIV. But there is a risk of getting the infection, even with the use of condoms. Abstinence is the only sure way to prevent sexual transmission of HIV.
- HIV-positive patients who are taking antiretroviral medicines are less likely to transmit the virus.
There is no cure for HIV infection at this time. But treatments are available to manage symptoms and reduce how much the virus copies itself (replicates). Treatment can also improve the quality and length of life for those who have already developed symptoms.
Constitutional and Symptomatic Homeopathy medicines helps to manage symptoms.
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