HIV: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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. The virus removes a white blood cell called the T helper cell in the immune system and produces its 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 doesn’t receive antiretroviral treatment will make it difficult to fight against infections or diseases. If HIV isn’t treated, the immune system will no longer protect itself. Severe damage to the immune system can take 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 disease and cancer pose a greater risk. The HIV infection will likely turn into AIDS without treatment, 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 complex disorders, including:

  • Tuberculosis (Tuberculosis),
  • Pneumonia,
  • 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 condition caused by intestinal parasites called cryptosporidiosis,
  • Types of cancer.

The shortening of untreated AIDS-related life expectancy is not a direct consequence of this syndrome itself. Conversely, the shortening of life expectancy results from 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, they 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 an 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 many viruses in their blood during acute HIV infection, and they are highly contagious. However, people with acute conditions will often not know that they are infected when they become ill. An antigen/antibody test or a nucleic acid (NAT) test is required to tell if an individual has an acute infection.
  • Stage 2: Known as a chronic stage or clinical delay. HIV infection is still active at this stage but reproduces at deficient 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 severe 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 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 an average lifespan with antiretroviral therapy. Likewise, there is no specialized treatment for AIDS yet.

How does HIV transmit?

Anyone can get HIV. HIV infection is transmitted through body fluids. These;

  •  Sperm,
  •  Blood,
  •  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 scarce. 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.

  • Stage 1 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 relatively high. As a result, this infection spreads much more quickly 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 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, diarrheasudden 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. 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 if the person is infected with HIV infection.

HIV treatment

There is currently no treatment for HIV or AIDS. However, medicines can stop the progression of this disease and will allow many people living with HIV to live longer and healthier lives. Treatments must 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 disease directly. Immediately after 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 controlling their 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 the 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 essentially 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 essentially 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 suppress HIV infection substantially. HIV treatment is usually based on a lifelong, permanent, and routine form. People who are condemned to live with HIV infection should regularly use their medicines.

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 an essential factor in HIV transmission in developed countries. Sharing needles and other medication devices can expose people to other troublesome viruses like 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 potentially limit the risk of exposure to HIV infection 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 apparent. 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 significantly prevent HIV transmission from mother to baby. It may be necessary to give birth by cesarean section in such cases. Women who are pregnant but have HIV infection can also pass the virus from breast milk to the baby. However, regular consumption of medicines can significantly reduce the risk of virus infection.

Because of the increased risk of a possible disease or infection, people living with HIV will have to make lifestyle arrangements to boost their immune system levels. The drug used for HIV as recommended is 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 medicine. The doctor may replace this regimen with a different medication that is much better tolerated. It is essential 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 healthy life, stress, nervousness, anxiety, or sadness should be avoided, such as psychological factors.


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