HIV (AIDS): What is it, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
HIV is a virus that affects the human immune system. When this virus enters the body, it weakens the immune system, making the person more susceptible to diseases and creating a life-threatening situation. Although there is no treatment option that removes the virus from the body, a person can continue his life in a healthy way for a long time with various methods.
What is HIV (AIDS)?
This virus can pass from body to body as a result of sexual intercourse or blood contact with people who have HIV. HIV consists of the initials of the words Human Immunodeficiency Virus in English and means human immunodeficiency virus in Turkish. HIV causes a decrease in infection-fighting white blood cells in the human body. Decreased white blood cells make the person’s immunity inadequate. The final stage of HIV infection is called AIDS. This stage occurs when HIV diagnosis is late or after long periods of time when immune-boosting drugs are not used. AIDS is also known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and causes the development of various serious diseases due to low immunity.
What are the symptoms of HIV (AIDS)?
HIV first manifests itself with flu-like symptoms. These symptoms often occur within two to four weeks. If the infection is not treated during this period, it turns into chronic HIV infection. Most often, there are no symptoms at this stage. But because the immune system is severely damaged, the body cannot fight other infections. HIV symptoms include:
- night sweats
- muscle pain
- sore in mouth
- Sore throat
- lymph swelling
Due to damaged immunity, HIV infection continues as AIDS in later stages. Symptoms of AIDS are:
- rapid weight loss
- High fever
- Increased sweating at night
- being more tired than usual
- Swellings in lymph nodes
- Diarrhea that lasts longer than a week
- Spontaneous wound formation in the mouth or genitals
- Purplish spots on the skin, inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
- Neurological disorders such as memory loss
- Psychological problems such as depression
What Causes HIV (AIDS)?
HIV is spread through contact with blood or sexual fluids, usually during sexual intercourse. Apart from this, if the mother has HIV, it is expected to be transmitted to the baby during pregnancy or breastfeeding. But people; They cannot become infected through ordinary day-to-day contact such as kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or sharing personal objects, food, or water. Some of the conditions that increase the risk of HIV transmission include:
- unprotected sexual intercourse
- Presence of sexually transmitted infections (syphilis, herpes virus, chlamydia, etc.)
- Use of foreign substances
- Common syringe use
- blood contact
- Accidental contaminated syringe sticking
How to Prevent HIV (AIDS)?
The way to protect yourself from HIV is to not have sexual intercourse with infected people. However, there are precautions that can be taken to prevent HIV infection despite sexual intercourse. One of these is medications that can help prevent HIV. These medications, known as PEP and PrEP, are for use before or after HIV. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis and is uninfected with HIV; but it is for the use of people at risk of contamination. PEP stands for HIV post-exposure prophylaxis. These pills are medicines used to prevent people exposed to HIV from becoming infected. PEP is for emergencies only and these medications should be started as soon as possible. If a person has HIV, then he or she may need to take a treatment called Antiretroviral therapy (ART) to reduce the risk of transmitting it to others.
How to Diagnose HIV (AIDS)?
HIV tests have three main goals:
- Screening of donated blood to reduce transmission of the virus through blood transfusion
- Surveillance of HIV prevalence or trends over time in a given population
- Diagnosis of infection in individuals with blood serum testing.
The most commonly used test type for screening is the ELISA test. There are also different tests that can be done using whole blood, dried blood spots, saliva or urine sample. HIV can be diagnosed with a rapid test that gives results within the same day. In most cases, people form antibodies to HIV within 28 days of infection, and these antibodies are effective in diagnosis. The situation is slightly different for babies born to HIV-positive mothers. Because rapid antibody tests are not sufficient for HIV diagnosis in babies under 18 months of age. For this reason, tests called virological tests are used. These tests should be applied as early as possible. Testing performed as soon as possible after birth is important to expedite treatment care in infants.
What are the symptoms that occur with HIV (AIDS)?
The acute stage, known as acute retroviral syndrome or ARS, occurs immediately after infection, when the immune system is not yet able to control the virus. It typically occurs within 7-14 days after a person is exposed to the virus. Symptoms encountered during this period may be:
- Some people in the acute phase develop a rash consisting of pink and red swellings, usually on the upper half of the body. The rash can sometimes gradually turn into larger, raised shapes.
- Around day 10, the virus begins to stop multiplying rapidly. Although some people may experience acute symptoms for up to three months, most people begin to feel better within two weeks as the immune system gradually brings the infection under control. However, sometimes painful swellings may occur in the lymph nodes in body areas such as the neck, armpit or groin. HIV is not a virus that can be cleared on its own.
- The chronic stage of the infection occurs when the immune system takes control of the virus. HIV can therefore remain symptom-free for 10 years or more; however, some people may experience symptoms within a year or two.
- In the early chronic phase, swollen lymph nodes may be the only notable symptom of HIV infection.
- The virus proliferates and consumes immune cells, even when it is asymptomatic.
Symptoms of late-stage HIV and AIDS may include infections as well as cancers such as invasive cervical cancer and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
HIV (AIDS) Treatment
HIV treatment involves taking effective medications called antiretroviral therapy (ART) used to control the virus. ART is recommended for everyone with HIV, and people with HIV should start ART as soon as possible after diagnosis, even on the same day if possible.
There are several options that combine two or three different HIV medications into a once-daily pill. When taken as prescribed, HIV medication reduces the amount of virus in the blood to a very low level. This allows the immune system to work better and helps prevent diseases.
People who know their status and use HIV medication as prescribed can live long and healthy lives. If left untreated, HIV damages the immune system, and weakened immunity can lead to the development of various infections and cancers. People with HIV who are pregnant and not yet taking HIV medications should also start using HIV medications as soon as possible to protect their health and prevent the transmission of HIV to others.
If you have problems with your immune system or think you are at risk of contracting HIV, you can contact a health institution as soon as possible.