HIV & AIDS

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection has now spread to every country in the world. Approximately 40 million people are currently living with HIV infection, and an estimated 25 million have died from this disease. The HIV virus has been particularly devastating in Africa, but infection rates in other countries remain high. In the United States, approximately 1 million people are currently infected. Globally, 85% of HIV transmission is heterosexual. In the United States, approximately one-third of new diagnoses appear to be related to heterosexual transmission. Male-to-male sexual contact still accounts for approximately half of new diagnoses in the U.S. Intravenous drug use contributes to the remaining cases. The diagnosis may occur years after infection, there is a higher proportion of recent infections due to heterosexual transmission. Infections in women are increasing. Worldwide, 42% of people with HIV are women. In the United States, approximately 25% of new diagnoses are in women, and the proportion is rising. New HIV infections in U.S. children have fallen dramatically, with only 28 cases reported in 2007.

This is largely a result of testing and treating infected mothers, as well as establishing uniform testing guidelines. HIV infection is commonly diagnosed by blood tests that detect antibodies the body makes in an attempt to fight the virus. It can take time for the immune system to produce enough antibodies for the antibody test to detect them. This time period is commonly referred to as the “window period” and may take six weeks to three months following infection. If the initial test after exposure is negative, a repeat test should be performed three months later. Early testing is critical; because early treatment for HIV helps people avoid or minimize complications. High-risk behaviors can be avoided; preventing the spread of the virus to others is impertinent. HIV is transmitted when the virus enters the body, usually by injecting infected cells or semen. There are several possible ways in which the virus can enter the body. Most commonly, HIV infection is spread by having sex with an infected partner.

The virus can enter the body through the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum, or mouth during sex. HIV also frequently spreads among injection-drug users who share needles or syringes that are contaminated with blood from an infected person. Women can transmit HIV to their babies during pregnancy or birth, when infected maternal cells enter the baby’s circulation. HIV also can be spread in health-care settings through accidental needle sticks or contact with contaminated fluids. Very rarely, HIV spreads through transfusion of contaminated blood or blood components. Blood products are now tested to minimize this risk. If tissues or organs from an infected person are transplanted, the recipient may acquire HIV. Donors are now tested for HIV to minimize this risk. People, who already have a sexually transmitted disease, are more likely to acquire HIV infection during sex with an infected partner. The virus does not spread through casual contact such as food preparation, sharing towels and bedding, swimming pools, telephones, or toilet seats. The virus is also unlikely to be spread by contact with saliva, unless it is contaminated with blood. With pertaining to symptoms many people with HIV do not know they are infected. Many people do not develop symptoms after they first get infected with HIV. Others have a flu-like illness within several days to weeks after exposure to the virus. They complain of fever, headache, tiredness, and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck. These symptoms usually disappear on their own within a few weeks. After that, the person feels normal and has no symptoms. This asymptomatic phase often lasts for years. The progression of disease varies widely among individuals. This state may last from a few months to more than 10 years. During this period, the virus continues to multiply actively and infects and kills the cells of the immune system. The virus destroys the cells that are the primary infection fighters, called CD4 cells. Even though the person has no symptoms, he or she is contagious and can pass HIV to others. AIDS is the later stage of HIV infection, when the body begins losing its ability to fight infections. Once an infected person is said to have AIDS the person has unusual infections or cancers that show how weak the immune system is: The infections that happen with AIDS are called opportunistic infections because they take advantage of the opportunity to infect a weakened host. Over the past 10 years, several drugs have become available to fight both the HIV infection. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. Therapy is initiated and individualized under the supervision of an expert physician in the care of HIV-infected patients. A combination of drugs is recommended to suppress the virus from replicating and boost the immune system. Despite the efforts by many qualified scientist, there is no effective vaccine against HIV.

The only way to prevent infection by the virus is to avoid behaviors that put you at risk, such as sharing needles or having unprotected sex. Unprotected sex means sex without a barrier, such as a condom. Even though condoms are said to be safe, they do often break. Many people infected with HIV don’t have any symptoms. There is no way to know with certainty whether a sexual partner is infected. One of the preventions of being infected with the HIV/AIDS virus is to abstain from sex. This is not the preferred way, but it absolutely protects against HIV transmission by this route. Use a condom in other situations. Condoms offer some protection if it is used properly. Occasionally, they may break or leak. Only condoms made of latex, or water-based lubricants should be used. Do not share needles or inject illicit drugs. If you work in a health-care field, follow national guidelines for protecting yourself against needle sticks and exposure to contaminated fluids. There is no cure for HIV infection. Before we had any treatment for the virus, people with AIDS lived only for a couple of years. Medications have improved the outlook and survival rates. Prevention efforts have reduced HIV infection in young children and have the potential to limit new infections in other populations. Medications have extended the average life expectancy, and many people can expect to live for years with proper treatment. An increasing number of patients have a normal life expectancy if they adhere carefully to medication regimens. Medications help the immune system recover and fight infections and prevent cancers from occurring. In time the virus may become resistant to the available drugs, and the manifestations of AIDS may develop. Drugs used to treat HIV and AIDS do not cure the infection. It is important for the person to remember that he or she is still contagious. Intensive research efforts are being focused on developing new and better treatments. Although currently there is no promising vaccine, scientist today still strives to improve and develop a better system of treatment and cures for the disease.