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HIV/AIDS has claimed over 25 million lives in the last 30 years. It's estimated that over 34 million people are living with HIV. One of the biggest problems associated with HIV/AIDS is misinformation. So how exactly is it caused? How is it transmitted? How can we prevent the disease from spreading? What medicines can we take for it? Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about HIV/AIDS:
What is HIV?
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a retrovirus that destroys or impairs the function of the body's immune system making the person more susceptible to infections. Unless treated, it develops into full-blown acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The virus infects humans when it comes in contact with tissues lining the vagina, anal area, mouth and eyes, or through a break in the skin. There are two main types - HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-2 is typically found in Africa and parts of Asia. HIV-2 is typically found in Africa and parts of Asia. Asia can thus no longer be considered free of HIV-2, and testing for HIV-2 appears mandatory, at least in India. Worldwide, when people refer to HIV they are usually referring to HIV-1.
What is AIDS?
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) isn't a disease in itself. It is a condition in caused by HIV in which the body's immune system fails to battle foreign microorganisms. This leads to various opportunistic infections and/or certain cancers. It is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.
How long does it take for HIV infection to develop into AIDS?
The time taken for HIV infection to develop into AIDS varies widely between individuals. The majority of HIV infected people will develop signs of HIV related diseases within 5 to 10 years, if left untreated. However, HIV infection can take 10 15 years or longer to progress into AIDS. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) can slow down the process even further.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV infection is spread from person to person when human blood and sexual fluids (semen and vaginal secretions) are shared. HIV can be transmitted through:
* The chances of HIV transmission through oral sex are low but it can't be completely ruled out.
The virus cannot survive for long outside the human body and dies quickly when the body fluid in which it is contained dries up. This is why it can't be spread by insects, can't spread like the flu virus (public surfaces, coughing, sneezing, etc.) The virus does not live in saliva, tears, urine or perspiration. Hence, casual contact with these body fluids does not be spread HIV. Hugging, shaking hands, or sharing personal objects, food or water does not transmit HIV.
How does HIV progress? What are the stages of HIV?
Our blood has something called white blood cells along with red blood cells and thrombocytes. The main function of white blood cells called CD4 cells or T-cells is to fight disease. It's these cells that are attacked and destroyed by HIV, making the person more susceptible to illnesses. There are three stages of HIV infection:
HIV symptoms vary from person to person. Some people experience a flu-like illness such as fever, headache or sore throat in the first few weeks after which the symptoms vanish. A person can have HIV for many years before developing any symptoms.
As the infection gradually progresses the person's immune system weakens and they might experience persistent yeast infections on the tongue (thrush). Women may develop severe vaginal yeast infections as well. Some of the other signs and symptoms are frequent fevers, diarrhoea, cough, swollen lymph nodes, persistent skin rashes, lack of energy, weight loss, mouth, genital or anal sores from herpes infections, short-term memory loss, etc.
Opportunistic infections are common in people with AIDS which affects nearly every organ system. Some of the signs that HIV is turning into AIDS include:
What are the complications of AIDS?
People with AIDS are extremely susceptible to infection. Some of the following conditions are commonly associated with AIDS:
Also read: HIV/AIDS: Diagnosis, treatment and prevention
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