HIV Infection: What You Should Remember
HIV infection is a serious health challenge to you and me as well as to the whole world. Well we all know this because HIV has been going on in this world for more than 30 years now. Even if you have not been directly affected by the disease someone close to you might have. And this means you and your family may be at high risk of catching HIV infection.
To face up to this challenge you need to refresh your memory about HIV as this will assist you avoid getting infected. Also learning about the disease helps you provide the needed support to those who are living with the infection.
Did you know that HIV was discovered in 1981? Yes the infection was discovered in America (USA) and 3 years later in 1984 it became known that HIV is the cause of AIDS.
HIV means Human Immunodeficiency Virus while AIDS means Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Gay men were the first individuals to be associated with HIV. This group of people were noticed to have a strange illness. Later the same type of disease was seen in men and women who share needles in drug abuse.
HIV Infection in Different Regions of the World
You probably know that HIV infection is found everywhere in the world. And if you have read the United Nations (UN) report on AIDS you will have noticed that: by the end of the year 2015 over 36.7 million people all over the world have HIV/AIDS. This is a lot! However you may have also learned that most of the people living with the disease (up to 25 million) live in sub Saharan Africa. But did you know that according to that report only 230 thousand people have HIV in the Middle East and North Africa?
The good news is that you can easily get HIV drugs now since the treatment is reaching more areas. This means governments and international organizations are making more efforts in fighting the disease. And it may be the reason why less people are dying from the disease nowadays compared to a few years ago.
The National Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS (NACA) of Nigeria has in June 2018 launched the world’s largest population-based HIV/AIDS survey. The survey is called the Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS). Up to 170 thousand people will be participating in the survey which will be done across all the local government areas of Nigeria. After NAIIS have been completed you can have an accurate estimate of people living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. This great development will help Nigeria to properly plan HIV/AIDS programs as well as prevent and control HIV infection.
HIV Infection in Your Body
HIV infection starts when the virus enters your body and invades cells of the immune system. It then takes over control of your cells and start multiplying using resources that belongs to the cell it invaded. The new viruses produced will then go and attack other cells of the immune system. Also the virus in the first cell destroys it and move on to invade another cell. Through this process a large number of your immune system cells are destroyed. Your immunity becomes very weak due to destruction of its cells by HIV and making your system abnormal.
How HIV Infection Spreads From One Person to Another
You can transmit HIV to another individual through the following:
- Sexual contact: this is the commonest way by which you can spread HIV. The transmission or spread could happen between opposite sex (male to female) and homosexual (male to male).
- Blood transfusion: when you receive blood from a HIV patient the infection spreads directly into your system. This also happens when the blood to be transfused gets contaminated in the lab. The disease also spread when you receive a tissue or organ (example kidney) for transplant from a HIV patient.
- You can also get the disease when you share needles to inject drugs into your body.
- Mother to child: as a mother infected with HIV you can spread the disease to your unborn child in the womb. You can also spread it during birth or while breast feeding your baby. This is a very important means of spreading HIV.
Studies and experience have shown that up to now you cannot catch HIV through simple contact with another person. Simple contact could come in the form of touching their skin, saliva or other body fluids. HIV is also not spread through insects such as mosquito bite.
Situations that Increases Your Chances of Getting HIV Infection
- Excessive alcohol intake leads to unsafe sex therefore increases your chance of getting infected with HIV.
- Drug abuse also leads to unsafe sexual contact and an increase in your chance of getting HIV.
- Oral contraceptive pills are used by women to prevent pregnancy or treat hormonal problems. However the pills may cause some changes in the female genital tract that increases the chances of HIV infection.
- If you are an adolescent girl then you have higher chances of catching HIV. This is because adolescent genital tract is not fully matured making it easy for the virus to cross the layers.
- For you men who are not circumcised (removal of the skin covering the tip of the penis) your risk is higher. This is because scientific studies have shown you have higher chances of getting infected than those circumcised.
Symptoms of HIV Infection
A variety of different health problems make up the list of HIV symptoms. All your body’s systems can be affected. Generally HIV infection is divided into different stages in relation to symptoms. The initial stage is the period after you have been infected and the symptoms start to appear. These symptoms include: fever; skin rashes; headache; sore-throat; swelling of lymph nodes in different parts of your body; muscles and joints pain; diarrhea (frequent stools); ulcers (minor wounds) on the mouth and genital areas; convulsion and loss of consciousness; paralysis (weakness) of one side of the face.
The second stage is the period when the patient has no symptoms. This stage last a long time up to 9 or 10 years. After this prolonged period of normal life then AIDS develop.
The stage of AIDS is associated with a variety of illnesses. These illnesses take advantage of your weak immune system and are called opportunistic infections (OIs). These OIs usually never attack you if your immunity is strong. Also in this stage you may develop cancers and become seriously sick. Symptoms include: swelling of lymph nodes; extreme loss of weight; fever; skin rashes; and diarrhea.
Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the diseases that take advantage of your weak immune system. TB is the commonest cause of suffering and death in HIV patients. Other illnesses associated with AIDS include: Candida infection of the mouth and throat (whitish fungus); pneumonia (infection in the lungs); herpes zoster (painful rashes on parts of the body); and cancers such as Kaposi’s sarcoma and Lymphoma.
Treatment of HIV/AIDS involves:
- Taking drugs that attack the HIV virus this is known as anti- retroviral therapy (ART).
- Prevention of opportunistic infections as this is the cause of sufferings among AIDS patients.
ART help to reduce the quantity of viruses in your body. It improves your immunity as well as the quality and length of your life. It also prevents the spread of HIV infection.
Different types of drugs are used specifically for this treatment program. You will be given a combination of two or three different drugs to take daily. However the success of this treatment program depends in part on your adherence to the treatment. You must not miss your medications to avoid failure of treatment.
Prevent Opportunistic Infections (OIs)
- Prevention of OIs involves the following:
- You should take your ART medications as prescribed;
- Ensure that you eat and drink foods that are not contaminated to protect you from germs that cause diarrhoea;
- Also avoid close contact with TB patient so that you don’t catch TB;
- You should protect your body from mosquito bite to prevent malaria;
- You should also practice safe sex by using condoms even with your partner;
- Ensure to avoid close contact with pets such as cat because you can get a disease known as Toxoplasmosis.
- Get immunized against Hepatitis B and pneumonia however this is only possible when your immunity is strong enough.
How to Avoid HIV Infection
Vaccine against HIV is still not available yet but its research is going on.
Currently the prevention measures include:
- You should be aware of how HIV is spread and how to avoid getting infected with disease.
- Voluntary Counselling and Testing centres are available for you to have easy access to HIV screening tests. This helps you to easily know your HIV status and to take necessary measures that will protect you.
- Practice safe sex: if you are an adolescent you should delay starting sex until you get the partner you wish to live with. You should also use condoms and avoid promiscuous sex
- You must adhere to ART treatment if you have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
- You are advised to take medicine as prevention if you are at high risk of catching the disease. For example commercial sex workers have high chance of getting infected therefore should be prescribed HIV drugs.
- Also you should circumcise your male child as this practice is protective against the infection.
- When you are pregnant you should be tested for HIV during ante natal care to protect your unborn child.
- Whenever you have blood transfusion ensure that the blood is screened for HIV before it is given to you.
(You can find an awesome collection of healthcare products that you can use to protect yourself from infections right here).
Kasper, D. L. et al. eds. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. 19th ed. McGraw Hill. USA.
Walker, B. R., Colledge, N. R., Ralston, S. H. & Penman, I. D. (eds)(2014) Davidson’s Principles and Practice of Medicine. 22nd ed. Churchill Livingstone Elsevier. London
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