What Is HIV? Everything About Human Immunodeficiency Virus

Edited By Maharshi Soni on Aug 18,2023
Lab technician holding HIV rapid device with positive result

Human Immunodeficiency Virus is one of the deadliest viruses known to mankind, which has a severity leading to death. The nature of this virus is designed to attack the immune system measured through CD4 cells, also known as T cells. These cells are categorized with their ability to fight against any infections and diseases found in our bodies. HIV targets these cells and depletes our system of them, flushing us empty of immunity and opening doorways to numerous other infections. 

Human Immunodeficiency Virus is transmitted into the human body through certain fluids like semen, blood, and vaginal fluids. The virus enters the body when fluids are exchanged or let into the system. HIV also gets infused in the needles and other equipment which can be used in injecting drugs. There are three major stages of HIV infection, beginning with a primary disease leading up to a terminal deadly consequence. 

The History of HIV and Aids

The epidemic emerged in the early 1980s, initially baffling medical experts with a mysterious and rapidly fatal immune deficiency syndrome. The virus responsible, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), was identified in 1983, leading to a gradual understanding of its modes of transmission and its devastating impact on the immune system. The lack of effective treatments in the early years resulted in widespread fear, stigma, and discrimination, particularly affecting the LGBTQ+ community. Over the years, advancements in medical research and antiretroviral therapy have transformed HIV from a particular death sentence into a manageable chronic condition for those with access to appropriate healthcare. Yet, challenges such as accessibility, education, and stigma remain.

Early Signs of HIV or Acute HIV

doctor with HIV patient

Acute HIV infection marks the initial stage, known to be visible within 24 weeks after contracting the virus. In this stage, the bloodstream harbors many viral particles, heightening the risk of transmission. Acute HIV signs and symptoms include flu and fever, which can be diagnosed through medical tests. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial in preventing progression to further worse stages.

Chronic HIV Infection

Chronic HIV infection extends over decades and may remain asymptomatic for years. This stage is achieved after the gradual replication of viral particles and a decrease in specific immune cells. Chronic HIV means individuals can still transmit the virus at this stage, regardless of fewer symptoms presented compared to the acute phase. Timely testing, diagnosis, and treatment are vital to preventing advancement to the final HIV stage.

AIDS

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome represents the terminal stage of HIV infection with a wholly blown body's natural immune response making it prone to other common diseases. AIDS can be recognized through symptoms like weight loss, body sores, chronic diarrhea, pneumonia, an ongoing cough, and recurrent severe infections. However, with consistent treatment and managed routine of medications, HIV never progresses this far. Regular testing and appropriate care empower those living with HIV to lead healthy, whole lives, minimizing the risk of reaching the final stage of AIDS.

Difference Between HIV and AIDS

Understanding the difference between HIV and AIDS is extremely important as one represents the virus, and the other represents the terminally progressed condition of the virus. The most advanced stage of HIV is AIDS, where the virus will multiply across the body, bringing the CD4 cell count to less than 200. When a person is diagnosed with AIDS, they can have a much shorter life expectancy than someone who is HIV-positive but not yet diagnosed with AIDS. AIDS severely depletes immunity making the body open to all kinds of infections.

How Is HIV Transmitted?

HIV and AIDS are majorly transmitted through practicing unprotected sex or allowing the exchange of bodily fluids during intercourse. In these cases, one partner should be a carrier of HIV which infuses the virus into the other person's body. The virus is also spread through sharing needles or other drug injections. It can also be transmitted through infected blood transfusions or from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth or breastfeeding. Although uncommon, HIV can also be transmitted through oral sex.

This is a crucial stage of practicing all the above-mentioned activities since the infection is not visible during the first few months. This window phase is where the multiplication of disease happens, and the chances of you spreading the virus further along if you have multiple sexual partners increase. It is best to get yourself checked and tested for potential infections once in a while to ensure you and others around you are safe.

How Is HIV Diagnosed?

Sample blood collection tube with HIV test label

The diagnosis of HIV and AIDS happens through blood tests in the initial stages. If you have learned what HIV is, you must realize its nature and that the growing place is blood. These tests are aimed at finding traces of the antibodies to the virus in a person's blood. If the test is positive, a more specialized test, like a viral load test, is performed to confirm the diagnosis. A positive test result means there is HIV infection and will need further testing to determine their current health status and treatment options.

How Is HIV Treated?

HIV and AIDS stay in the individuals body for a lifetime, and no specific cure eliminates the virus from the body. Although fatal, the virus treatment available can help manage the virus and reduce the risk of it progressing to AIDS. These treatments include antiretroviral therapy (ART), a combination of drugs that can help reduce the virus in a persons body and make them less infectious.

How Can HIV Be Prevented?

The first and foremost factor in preventing such fatal conditions is to practice safe sex and always use a condom when having vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It is also important to avoid sharing needles or injecting material and get regularly tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

The Stigma Around HIV

HIV and AIDS have become so threatening to humankind that their stigma has led to a distinctive difference between carriers and noncarriers. This leads to a lot of judgment and discrimination, making it difficult for the people suffering from the disease to cope with their mental health and fight the condition. It is important to remember that anyone can get HIV and that it is unrelated to any particular lifestyle or behavior. Everyone should be treated with respect and compassion, regardless of their HIV status.

HIV and Mental Health

If you are struggling with the experience of being an HIV and AIDS carrier, you should focus on your mental health and stability the most. It could be challenging to adjust the alternative lifestyle options to manage the medications and keep the counts in check. It is essential to talk to someone if you are struggling and to get support from family, friends, or a support group if needed. Taking time for yourself and looking after your needs is also essential.

Conclusion

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and can lead to a condition known as AIDS. It is most commonly transmitted through unprotected sexual contact. Still, it can also be spread through infected needles, other drug-injection equipment, and from an infected mother to her baby. There is currently no cure for HIV, but treatments are available that can help manage the virus and reduce the risk of it progressing to AIDS. Maintaining a regular diet that strengthens your immunity and exercising can make you less prone to such diseases. It is essential to practice safe sex and to get tested regularly for HIV to reduce the risk of transmission and to ensure that you are aware of your HIV status.

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