HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that attacks the cells of the immune system, our body’s natural defense mechanism against various diseases. In the immune system, the virus removes a white blood cell called the T helper cell and produces its own copy within these cells. T helper cells are also called CD4 cells. HIV slowly weakens one’s immune system because it destroys more CD4 cells and produces more copies of it. This means that the body of someone with HIV who does not receive antiretroviral treatment will make it difficult for them to fight against infections or diseases. If HIV is not treated, the immune system will no longer be able to protect itself. Serious damage to the immune system can take up to 10 or 15 years. However, the rate of progression of HIV varies depending on age, general health and history.
What is AIDS?
AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is defined as the most advanced stage of HIV infection. When HIV infection becomes AIDS, the types of infection and cancer pose a greater risk. Without treatment, the HIV infection will likely turn into AIDS, as the immune system is slowly degrading. A person with HIV is thought to be advancing towards AIDS if:
- The number of CD4 cells falls below 200 cells per cubic meter (200 cells / mm3). (In a human with a healthy immune system, the CD4 count is between 500 and 1,600 cells / mm3.)
- The development of many so-called opportunistic infections, regardless of the number of CD4s.
If AIDS develops in the human body, the immune system will be seriously compromised. The immune system is no longer able to combat many infections or diseases, and this invites many problematic diseases, including:
- Tuberculosis (Tuberculosis),
- Fungal infection in the throat or mouth,
- A type of herpes virus known as cytomegalovirus (CMV),
- Fungal infection in the brain, also known as cryptococcal meningitis,
- A brain infection caused by parasites called toxoplasmosis,
- A dangerous infection caused by intestinal parasites called cryptosporidyosis,
- Types of cancer.
The shortening of untreated AIDS-related life expectancy is not a direct consequence of this syndrome itself. Conversely, shortening of life expectancy is the result of complications and diseases caused by the immune system weakened by AIDS.
What is the Link Between HIV and AIDS?
For a person to develop AIDS, he or she must be infected with HIV. However, getting HIV does not mean that people will develop AIDS.
HIV cases develop in 3 stages. These;
Stage 1: Known as acute stage. It develops within the first few weeks immediately after transmission. After HIV infection, people may experience a flu-like illness that lasts for several weeks. This is a natural response of the body to infection. People have a large amount of virus in their blood during acute HIV infection and they are highly contagious. However, people with acute infections will often not be aware that they are infected when they become ill. An antigen / antibody test or a nucleic acid (NAT) test is required to know if an individual has an acute infection.
Stage 2: known as chronic stage or clinical delay. At this stage, HIV infection is still active but reproduces at very low levels. During this time, people may not have any symptoms or become ill. For people who cannot use medication for HIV treatment, this period may take 10 years or more. In some cases, however, this stage may proceed much faster.
Stage 3: Now is the time for HIV infection to return to AIDS. AIDS is the most serious stage of HIV infection.
After HIV infection is linked to reducing the amount of CD4 cells in the body, the immune system is severely weakened. Generally, the amount of CD4 of an adult is about 500 to 1,500 per cubic centimeter. If this amount falls below 200, the person is considered to be AIDS. How quickly an HIV infection progresses in Stage 2, known as the chronic stage, varies significantly from person to person. Without treatment, this infection can take up to 10 years to develop into AIDS. There is currently no treatment for HIV infection. However, this infection can be controlled. People with HIV infection can usually have a normal lifespan with antiretroviral therapy. Likewise, there is no technical treatment for AIDS yet.
How does HIV Transmit?
Anyone can get HIV. HIV infection is transmitted through body fluids. These;
- Breast milk,
- Rectal and vaginal fluids.
HIV infection spread from person to person are as follows;
- Through anal or vaginal intercourse,
- Joint use of injection needles, syringes or other medical substances,
- Forging instruments are not sterilized,
- Through pregnancy and childbirth,
- With breastfeeding,
- It is spread by blood contamination from someone infected with HIV.
HIV infection can also be transmitted through blood, organ or tissue transplants. The spread of HIV infection from person to person may theoretically be possible, but nowadays it is very rare. HIV infection does not meet in the following cases;
- Skin contact,
- Handshake, hugging or kissing
- By water or air,
- Sharing drinks or food,
- Through tears, saliva or sweat,
- Use of shared towels, toilets, baths or beds,
- Not transmitted by mosquito bites.
If a person with HIV infection is being treated meticulously, it is almost impossible for him to infect another person.
What are HIV Symptoms?
The symptoms of HIV and AIDS vary depending on the stages of this infection.
- 1st Stage Symptoms (Acute HIV): Many people infected with HIV develop a flu-like illness immediately after this virus enters the body. This disease, known as acute HIV infection, will last for several weeks. Possible symptoms include high fever, sudden onset of head, throat, muscle and joint pain, skin problems, wound formation in the mouth, and swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck. As these symptoms progress so mildly, the patient may not notice them. However, the level of virus in the bloodstream is also quite high. As a result, this infection spreads much more easily than in the next stage.
- Stage 2 Symptoms (Chronic HIV): In some people, permanent swelling of the lymph nodes in the throat occurs at this stage. There are no other signs or symptoms. HIV infection will remain in the body and in infected white blood cells. This stage of HIV infection will last for an average of 10 years unless antiretroviral therapy is taken.
- Phase 3 Symptoms (AIDS Stage): First of all, HIV may be mild symptoms as long as HIV continues to destroy immune cells that help fight the germs in the body. These include high fever, fatigue, swelling of the lymph nodes, diarrhea, sudden weight loss, mouth fungi and sores. At a later stage, the symptoms will become more dangerous. These include excessive night sweats, recurrent high fever, chronic diarrhea, unusual wounds on the tongue or mouth, constant fatigue, rapid weight loss and skin rashes.
How is HIV Diagnosed?
HIV infection can be suspected if the person is experiencing very long-term symptoms and no other cause is found. When infected with HIV, the body’s immune system will produce a high percentage of antibodies to eliminate this virus. Saliva, urine or blood tests will be performed to determine this. Saliva or urine tests result in a positive HIV infection, which will be followed by a blood test. HIV infection antibodies will typically appear in the blood within 3 months. In some cases, however, this period may take up to 6 months. Although HIV infection has a negative result, diagnostic tests are performed at 6, 12 and 24 weeks when the infection is thought to be transmitted. Necessary measures will be taken to spread the virus in case the person is infected with HIV infection.
There is currently no treatment for HIV or AIDS. However, treatments can stop the progression of this disease and will allow many people living with HIV to live longer and healthier lives. It is very important that treatments start early to prevent the progression of this virus. HIV treatment can significantly improve the quality of life, prolong life, and reduce the risk of transmission of this virus. Now let’s examine in detail what HIV treatment methods are;
Emergency HIV tablets or prophylaxis after infection: If a person believes they have been exposed to the virus in the last 2-3 days, they should use anti-HIV tablets called prophylaxis (PEP) immediately after infection. These drugs can stop the infection immediately. Immediately after any contact with this virus, a doctor should be consulted as soon as possible and anti-HIV medications should be started. The anti-HIV treatment method lasts an average of 28 days and the physician will continue to monitor HIV infection after completion of the treatment.
Antiretroviral drug use: HIV treatment includes antiretroviral drug therapy, which seriously combats HIV infections and slows down the spread of this virus throughout the body. People living with HIV infection often use a combination of so-called antiretroviral or highly active antiretroviral therapy.
There are several types of antiretroviral subgroups. These include:
- Protease agents: Protease is an enzyme that prevents replication of HIV infection. These agents bind to the enzyme and highly inhibit the possible effect of HIV infection by preventing their own copies.
- Integrase agents: HIV infection, another enzyme, the integral, is required to infect T cells to a large extent. These drug blocks will integrate. They are often the first treatment option because of their efficacy and limited side effects for many people.
- Nucleoside and nucleotide reverse transcriptase agents: Also known as NRTIs, these agents interact to prevent proliferation of HIV infection.
- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase agents: Also known as NNRTIs, these agents work as nucleoside and nucleotide reverse transcriptase agents. This group of drugs largely prevents the proliferation of HIV infection.
- Auxiliary chemokine receptor antagonists: This group of drugs prevents HIV infection from entering cells.
- Entry agents: This group of drugs largely prevents HIV infection from entering T cells. Without access to such cells, HIV cannot replicate itself in any way.
In addition, doctors can often use a combination of these drugs to substantially suppress HIV infection. HIV treatment is often based on a lifelong, permanent and routine form. People who are condemned to live with HIV infection should use their medicines regularly and regularly.
How to Prevent HIV?
To prevent HIV infection, experts recommend the following measures;
- Using a condom: Without a condom, you should never have sexual intercourse. Condoms significantly reduce the risk of transmission of HIV and various sexually transmitted infectious diseases.
- Sharing: Intravenous drug use is a very important factor in HIV transmission in developed countries. Sharing needles and other medication devices can expose people to other troublesome viruses such as HIV or Hepatitis C. For this reason, needles, injections or medical instruments should not be shared and sterile.
- No exposure to body fluid: A person can limit the risk of exposure to HIV infection potentially by taking measures to reduce the risk of exposure to infected blood. In particular, health care workers should wear masks, protective goggles, gloves and aprons when exposure to body fluids is obvious. Thorough and frequent washing of the skin immediately after contact with blood or any body fluids may reduce the risk of infection.
- Pregnancy: Some antiretroviral agents may harm an unborn baby during pregnancy. However, a well managed and effective treatment plan can greatly prevent HIV transmission from mother to baby. In such cases, it may be necessary to give birth by cesarean section. Women who are pregnant but have HIV infection can also pass the virus from breast milk to the baby. However, regular consumption of medicines on a regular basis can greatly reduce the risk of virus infection.
Because of the increased risk of a possible disease or infection, people living with HIV infection will have to make lifestyle arrangements to increase their immune system levels. The use of the drug used for HIV as recommended is absolutely essential for effective treatment. Missing even a few doses may jeopardize this treatment. Medications used for HIV can cause serious side effects that force people.
If the side effects of these drugs become too severe, it would be a better choice to talk to the doctor rather than stop the drug. The doctor may replace this regimen with a different medication that is much better tolerated. It is very important to take various steps to prevent diseases and other infections. People living with HIV infection should exercise regularly and have a balanced and healthy diet. Smoking must be left. Wash hands, face and feet continuously. Animal feces and feathers should be avoided as much as possible, as they can cause various allergic reactions. As the understanding of this disease increases, common misconceptions about HIV and AIDS decrease. In addition, it will be beneficial for all people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS to receive continuous psychological support. Because prolongation of life and a healthy life, stress, nervous, anxiety or sadness should be avoided such psychological factors.