What are HIV and AIDS?
AIDS is a chronic condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV interferes with your body's ability to fight the organisms that cause disease.
HIV is a sexually transmitted disease. It can also be spread by contact with infected blood, or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. It can take years before HIV weakens the immune system to the point that you have AIDS.
Signs or Symptoms of HIV and AIDS
The symptoms of HIV and AIDS vary, depending on the phase of infection.
The majority people infected by HIV develop a flu-like illness within a month or two after the virus enters the body. Known as primary or acute HIV infection, it may last for a few weeks.
Possible symptoms include:
- Muscle soreness
- Sore throat
- Mouth or genital ulcers
- Swollen lymph glands, mainly on the neck
- Joint pain
- Night sweats
Although the symptoms of primary HIV infection can go unnoticed, the viral load in the blood stream is particularly high. As a result, HIV infection spreads more efficiently during primary infection than during the next stage of infection.
Clinical latent infection
In some people, persistent swelling of lymph nodes occurs during clinical latent HIV. Otherwise, there are no specific signs and symptoms.
Clinical latent infection typically lasts 8 to 10 years.
Early symptomatic HIV infection
As the virus continues to multiply and destroy immune cells, you may develop mild infections or chronic symptoms such as:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Weight loss
- Cough and shortness of breath
- Progression to AIDS
If you receive no treatment for an HIV infection, the disease typically progresses to AIDS in about 10 years. By then, your immune system has been severely damaged, which makes you susceptible to diseases or infections, which may include:
- Soaking night sweats
- Shaking chills or fever higher than 100° F (38° C) for several weeks
- Cough and shortness of breath
- Chronic diarrhea
- Persistent white spots or unusual lesions on your tongue or in your mouth
- Persistent, unexplained fatigue
- Blurred and distorted vision
- Weight loss
- Skin rashes or bumps
How does HIV become AIDS?
HIV destroys CD4 cells, which are a specific type of white blood cell that plays a large role in helping your body fight disease. Your immune system weakens as more CD4 cells are killed. You can have an HIV infection for years before it progresses to AIDS.
To be diagnosed with AIDS, you must have a CD4 count under 200 or experience an AIDS-defining complication, such as:
- Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia
How HIV is transmitted?
To become infected with HIV, infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions must enter your body. You can't become infected by hugging, kissing or shaking hands with someone who has HIV or AIDS. HIV can't be transmitted through the air, water or via insect bites.
You can become infected with HIV in several ways, including:
- Vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected partner whose blood, semen or vaginal secretions enter your body
- Blood transfusions
- Sharing needles
- From mother to child. Via pregnancy or delivery, or breast-feeding
Anyone of any age, race, sex or sexual orientation can be infected, but you're at greatest risk of HIV/AIDS if you:
- Have unprotected sex
- Have another STD
- Use intravenous drugs
- Are an uncircumcised man
HIV infection weakens your immune system, making you highly susceptible to all sorts of infections and certain types of cancers including:
- Tuberculosis (TB)
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
- Cryptococcal meningitis
Cancers common to HIV/AIDS include Kaposi's sarcoma, a tumor of the blood vessel walls, and lymphomas, a type of cancer originates in white blood cells.
Wasting syndrome. A loss of at least 10 percent of body weight, it is often accompanied by diarrhea, chronic weakness and fever.
Neurological complications such as confusion, forgetfulness, depression, anxiety and trouble walking. One of the most common neurological complications is AIDS dementia complex, which leads to behavioral changes and diminished mental functioning.
The following may help you stay healthy longer:
- Eat healthy foods. Emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Healthy foods help keep you strong, give you more energy and support your immune system
- Avoid certain foods. Food-borne illnesses can be especially severe in people who are infected with HIV. Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, raw eggs and raw seafood such as oysters, sushi or sashimi. Cook meat until it's well-done or until there's no trace of pink color
- Get immunizations. These may prevent infections such as pneumonia and the flu
- Take care with companion animals. Cat feces can cause toxoplasmosis, while pet reptiles can carry salmonella
Supplements that may be helpful:
- Fish oil
- Whey protein
- Coenzyme Q10
Supplements that may be dangerous:
- St. John's wort can reduce the effectiveness of several types of anti-HIV drugs by more than 50 percent
- Garlic supplements can reduce the effectiveness of several anti-HIV drugs.
To help prevent the spread of HIV, you should:
- Use a new condom every time you have sex
- Use a clean needle if injecting drugs and don't share it
- Tell your sexual partners if you have HIV
- If you're pregnant, get medical care right away
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