What is HIV?
Initial symptoms of HIV are flu-like, but you may not have any symptoms at all, at first. That's why you should base your decision to get an HIV/AIDS test on your potential exposure history, not the appearance of symptoms.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the cells of the immune system (CD4 cells). CD4+ cells help the body to resist any infections. When the number of these cells goes down, the body is less resistant,which makes it vulnerable to other infections and diseases. HIV spreads mainly via body fluids (blood and semen) from the infected person.
If untreated, HIV can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Hence, treating HIV with antiretroviral therapy (HIV medicine) is necessary to reduce the viral load and prevent transmission of HIV to the patient’s sexual partners.
How is HIV transmitted?
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is transmitted by coming in direct contact with certain body fluids from the person infected with HIV. These fluids are as follows
- Rectal fluids
- Vaginal fluids
- Breast milk
The transmission occurs only when the fluid gets into the bloodstream of an HIV-negative person through open sores or cuts, by direct injection or through contact with a mucous membrane.
The most common ways of spreading HIV are as follows
- Having anal or vaginal sex with an HIV-positive person
- Sharing needles with a person who has HIV
- Less common ways are as follows
- During pregnancy or breastfeeding
- Having oral sex with an infected person
- Receiving blood products that are contaminated with HIV
- Getting stuck with an HIV-contaminated needle
How do you feel when you have HIV?
Around two to four weeks after getting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the patient may experience the following symptoms
As the disease progresses, the patient may remain symptomless for quite some time. This stage is also known as clinical latency. During this stage, the virus multiplies at a low level. Without treatment, the patient may remain in this stage for 10 to 15 years. However, the virus remains active during this stage.
If left untreated, HIV progresses to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS can weaken the immune system causing several opportunistic diseases. The patient may experience the following severe symptoms in this stage:
- Unexplainable weight loss
- Recurring fever
- Getting tired easily
- Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin or neck
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
- Sores of the mouth, anus or genitals
- Memory loss and depression
- Purplish spots on the skin that don’t go away
- Night sweats
- Bruises or bleeding due to an unknown reason
What are the types of HIV tests?
There are three types of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) tests used to diagnose HIV infections
- Antibody tests: These tests check for HIV antibodies in blood or oral fluid.
- Antigen/antibody tests: These help to detect both HIV antibodies and antigens in the blood.
- Nucleic acid tests: These look for HIV in the blood.
How to manage HIV symptoms
Antiretroviral medications are the first-line treatment for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Patients should be compliant with the medications to reduce the amount of virus in the body.
The various symptoms and their treatments are as follows
- Weight loss: In addition to the HIV medications (antiretroviral therapy), patients should eat a well-balanced diet and high-protein supplements and perform exercises to build muscle mass. The physician may prescribe medications such as Megace (megestrol acetate) and Marinol (dronabinol) to treat wasting syndrome commonly seen in HIV patients.
- Skin problems: Skin infections or dry itchy skin are usually treated with antifungal or antibacterial cream. Oral medicines may also be required.
- Herpes (Shingles): Shingles can cause a painful, blistering rash. Antiviral medications, pain relievers and calamine lotions are mainly used to treat rashes.
- Fever: Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and applying cold compresses may bring down the temperature.
- Nagging cough: Dry cough can be due to an infection known as pneumocystis pneumonia. The physician may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Medicines to thin the mucus may also help.
- Diarrhea: Doctors may prescribe antidiarrheals to control diarrhea. Patients need to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.