AIDS: Symptoms, causes and preventions
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) was first recognized in North America in the early 1980s. It is caused by a virus known as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). HIV infection has become epidemic worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that since its discovery, it has caused 36 million deaths worldwide.
Anyone can contract HIV. The virus is transmitted in bodily fluids that include:
* Vaginal and rectal fluids
* Breast milk
Some of the ways HIV is spread from person to person include:
* Through vaginal or anal sex - the most common route of transmission, especially among men who have sex with men
* By sharing needles, syringes, and other items for injection drug use
* By sharing tattoo equipment without sterilizing it between uses
* During pregnancy, labor, or delivery from a woman to her baby
* During breastfeeding
* Through "pre-mastication," or chewing a baby's food before feeding it to them
* Through exposure to the blood of someone living with HIV, such as through a needle stick
The virus can also be transmitted through a blood transfusion or organ and tissue transplant.
The symptoms of HIV and AIDS vary, depending on the phase of infection.
Primary infection (Acute HIV)
Possible signs and symptoms include:
* Muscle aches and joint pain
* Sore throat and painful mouth sores
* Swollen lymph glands, mainly on the neck
These symptoms can be so mild that you might not even notice them. However, the amount of virus in your bloodstream (viral load) is quite high at this time. As a result, the infection spreads more easily during primary infection than during the next stage.
Clinical latent infection (Chronic HIV)
In some people, persistent swelling of lymph nodes occurs during this stage. Otherwise, there are no specific signs and symptoms. HIV remains in the body and in infected white blood cells.
This stage of HIV infection generally lasts around 10 years if you're not receiving antiretroviral therapy. But sometimes, even with this treatment, it lasts for decades. Some people develop more severe disease much sooner.
Symptomatic HIV infection
As the virus continues to multiply and destroy your immune cells - the cells in your body that help fight off germs - you may develop mild infections or chronic signs and symptoms such as:
* Swollen lymph nodes - often one of the first signs of HIV infection
* Weight loss
* Oral yeast infection (thrush)
* Shingles (herpes zoster)
HIV infection weakens your immune system, making you much more likely to develop numerous infections and certain types of cancers.
Infections common to HIV/AIDS
Tuberculosis (TB): In resource-limited nations, TB is the most common opportunistic infection associated with HIV. It's a leading cause of death among people with AIDS.
Cytomegalovirus: This common herpes virus is transmitted in body fluids such as saliva, blood, urine, semen and breast milk. A healthy immune system inactivates the virus, and it remains dormant in your body. If your immune system weakens, the virus resurfaces - causing damage to your eyes, digestive tract, lungs or other organs.
Candidiasis: Candidiasis is a common HIV-related infection. It causes inflammation and a thick, white coating on the mucous membranes of your mouth, tongue, esophagus or vagina.
Cryptococcal meningitis: Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord (meninges). Cryptococcal meningitis is a common central nervous system infection associated with HIV, caused by a fungus found in soil.
Toxoplasmosis: This potentially deadly infection is caused by Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite spread primarily by cats. Infected cats pass the parasites in their stools, which may then spread to other animals and humans. Seizures occur when it spreads to the brain.
Cryptosporidiosis: This infection is caused by an intestinal parasite that's commonly found in animals. You get it when you eat or drink contaminated food or water. The parasite grows in your intestines and bile ducts, leading to severe, chronic diarrhea in people with AIDS
There's no vaccine to prevent HIV infection and no cure for AIDS. But you can protect yourself and others from infection.
To help prevent the spread of HIV:
Use a new condom every time you have sex: Use a new condom every time you have anal or vaginal sex. Women can use a female condom. If using lubricant, make sure it's water-based. Oil-based lubricants can weaken condoms and cause them to break. During oral sex use a non-lubricated, cut-open condom or a dental dam - a piece of medical-grade latex.
Tell your sexual partners if you have HIV: It's important to tell all your current and past sexual partners that you're HIV-positive. They'll need to be tested.
Use a clean needle: If you use a needle to inject drugs, make sure it's sterile and don't share it. Take advantage of needle-exchange programs in your community and consider seeking help for your drug use.
If you're pregnant, get medical care right away: If you're HIV-positive, you may pass the infection to your baby. But if you receive treatment during pregnancy, you can cut your baby's risk significantly.
Consider male circumcision: There's evidence that male circumcision can help reduce a man's risk of getting HIV infection.
HIV and AIDS myths and facts:
Many misconceptions circulate about HIV that are harmful and stigmatizing for people with the virus.
The following cannot transmit the virus:
* Shaking hands
* Touching unbroken skin
* Using the same toilet
* Sharing towels
* Sharing cutlery