HIV and AIDS
HIV and AIDS
AIDS (Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome) is a disease of human immune system caused by a virus called HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). The virus infects cells of the immune system in humans, disturbs its function and slowly causes failure of the immune system. The virus alters genetic information of the infected cells and the viral DNA becomes integral part of it. Over time, the patient's immunity weakens and the patient is thus more susceptible to various infectious and tumour diseases, gradually leading to death of the person. According to available data, in 2009 there were 30.8 million adults and 2.5 million children infected with HIV/AIDS in the world and the number is continuously increasing. Still, the number of really infected people might be even much higher, as not every infected person knows about the infection and lets the tests be done.
The immune system is essential for life of a human being. It is the most important defence mechanism of our body as its cells can distinguish and destroy alien organisms potentially dangerous to our body (bacteria, viruses, and other organisms that can cause diseases). The immune system consists of many different types of cells, antibodies, and other components. Its important parts are also white blood cells circulating in the blood. These can be divided into type B and type T cells and macrophages that can engulf and destroy harmful particles within our body. Important are also antibodies produced against alien particles and organisms.
HIV Infection and AIDS
HIV gradually destroys immune system and its function; it specifically infects T-lymphocytes known as CD4 lymphocytes. The virus becomes part of the cell, multiplies in the cell and after the multiplication has been finished, the cell dies and the virus spreads further. As a result of a decrease in the number of CD4 lymphocytes, immune system is no more able to fully fulfil its defensive function. This is when AIDS manifests – patients suffer from repeated prolonged and severe infections, caused by bacteria that are normally present in the environment, cachexia, and tumours.
HIV in infected individuals can be found in body fluids, particularly blood, semen and vaginal secretions. Therefore, it is most often transmitted during unprotected sexual intercourse with infected person. Anal intercourse is among the most risky; during vaginal intercourse women are more likely to be infected, mainly due to the fact that HIV is well absorbed from the vaginal mucosa. Other ways of transmission include blood transfer and transmission from mother to fetus during intrauterine development and childbirth. A major risk is using common syringes and needles for intravenous drug users; sometimes even having piercing or tattoo done can represent a risk. In developing countries, considerable risk of HIV infection is connected also with blood transfusions; in developed countries this risk should be minimal due to regular check-ups of blood donors and donated blood. Vertical transfer from mother to fetus during pregnancy or from mother to child during childbirth and breastfeeding is quite common, though. Pregnant women in developed countries are routinely tested for HIV infection, so that in case of a positive result the therapy of the mother and child can be started as soon as possible. Conversely, it is important to know that according to present knowledge HIV cannot be transmitted by normal contact, insects, saliva, sneezing, or when using common utensils or toilets.
HIV Diagnosis and Manifestation of AIDS
HIV virus can be found in the blood 2-3 months after infection by specific laboratory test. However, the person is infectious straight after infection. HIV testing is usually performed anonymously. A person with HIV in the blood is called HIV-positive and the process of destruction of patient's immune system has begun. HIV-positive people may have flu-like symptoms, more frequent infections, or may have no symptoms at all. As soon as a significant drop in T-lymphocytes in blood appears or failure of immune system manifests, the stage of HIV-positivity passes to AIDS.
Symptoms of HIV and AIDS
Many people still believe that HIV-positive person can be told at first glance because he/she looks very ill. In fact, the opposite is true. HIV infection is very slow and infected person may sometimes for years have no idea about the infection. In the first month, HIV infection may manifest by flu-like symptoms, fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, or rash on the skin. After this initial phase, symptomless period follows, lasting up to several years. In this period HIV virus multiplies, the disease progresses and the patient might unknowingly spread the infection among other people. The patient experiences repeated infections, both banal and serious; common are herpetic infections, yeast infections, infections of the genital tract in women. When the immune system of the host person is weakened enough, HIV infection passes into AIDS disease. AIDS is characterized by repeated serious infections and cancer, which already directly endangers patient's life. Loss of appetite, weight loss and general cachexia may be present.
Treatment of HIV and AIDS
HIV infection and AIDS are unfortunately incurable nowadays. Immune system is not able to get rid of HIV virus and medicaments able to destroy HIV virus are not known. Therefore, treatment of HIV/AIDS consists of drugs weakening the virus and preventing it from multiplying. The best treatment for HIV/AIDS is in every possible way its prevention – following principles of safe sex, as to say condom use, avoiding risky sexual contacts, partner faithfulness, and no intravenous drug use.