HIV infection and AIDS are both two different conditions with different diagnosis. HIV is a virus that attacks the CD4 cell (a type of white blood cell) in the immune system of the body. HIV decreases the body’s ability to fight off infection and illness. Though the body can fight off many viruses, but the body cannot completely get rid of HIV once they are present.
HIV can be treatment with antiretroviral medication to reduce the effect of the virus by halting its progress or reducing it to undetectable amount in the bloodstream. This means the body remains healthy, and the virus cannot be transmitted.
AIDS on the other hand, is a condition that may develop in time in a person with HIV, especially if the condition is left untreated for a long time. It isn’t possible to have AIDS without first having HIV, but a person can have HIV without developing AIDS, especially if the person is on an effective antiretroviral therapy.
If HIV is left untreated, the disease continues to damage the body’s immune system, thereby increasing the risk of developing an opportunistic infection (infections that occur more frequently and severe in persons with weakened immune systems).
Examples of opportunistic infections and other diseases that can develop in those with HIV include:
- Tuberculosis: a bacterial infection of the lungs
- Cancers: such as lung cancer, cervical cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma, and lymphomas
- Toxoplasmosis: a parasitic infection of the brain
- Candidiasis: a fungal infection of the throat or lungs
- Cytomegalovirus: a viral infection that can cause blindness and other complications
- pneumocystis pneumonia: a fatal form of fungal pneumonia
- Cryptococcosis: a fungal infection that can lead to pneumonia
There may also be co-infections, which is when two infections tend to occur together.
AIDS: Stage 3 of HIV infection
AIDS is the final stage (stage 3) of HIV infection which is diagnosed based on a CD4 cell count or the development of one or more opportunistic infections. Stage 1 is the acute stage of HIV and stage 2 is the clinical latency stage.
AIDS typically develops between 2 and 15 years after contracting the HIV virus if left untreated. The rate at which the HIV progresses to AIDS depends on many factors such as genetics, patient’s age, general health, the presence of other infections, and standard of health care.
Causes of HIV and AIDS
AIDS was first discovered in 1981 when doctors began noticing that a rare number of opportunistic infections appeared to be affecting some group of people. They found that the immunity of people with HIV decreased over time, then eventually, AIDS will would develop. The cause of the problem was traced back to a retrovirus, the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV-1.
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HIV-1 is transmitted between humans through the exchange of bodily fluids. Channels through which this can happen include:
- Sexual contact: HIV be transferred from an infected person to an uninfected person through having unprotected vaginal, oral, and anal sex. HIV can be passed on if an infected partner has detectable levels of HIV in their blood which can be above one partner has HIV levels in their blood that are detectable, in other words, above 200 copies per milliliter.
- Pregnancy or childbirth: An HIV infected mother or one who has developed AIDS, may pass the virus to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breast-feeding.
- Blood transfusion: Blood that hasn’t undergone proper screening before being transfused may be infected with the virus.
- Use of unsterilized syringe and needle: Sharing equipment for injecting drugs with others increases the chance of getting the virus.
As for people who do not have HIV but who are at risk of contracting the virus, they can protect themselves through pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). This is a pill that contains two medications (tenofovir and emtricitabine), that can stop the virus from taking hold, even if exposure occurs. PrEP is under the brand name Truvuda. Using PrEP consistently can reduce the chance of infection by up to 92 percent, according to the CDC.
Symptoms of HIV and AIDS
The symptoms of HIV may widely vary and they depend on the individual, management of the virus, and the stage of the condition.
Acute stage symptoms
This is the first stage of HIV. It comes up 2 to 4 weeks after getting exposed to the virus. Not everyone with HIV have early symptoms. Some people do not even experience symptoms for 10 years or more. Symptoms may include flu-like indicators including:
- Muscle aches
- Mouth ulcers
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Sore throat
- Night sweats
Clinical latency stage symptoms
This is the second stage of HIV infection. During this stage, the virus is active but reproduces at very low levels. There may be only mild symptoms, or none at all.
Medication can help stop the virus from developing and keep it in this stage. It can reduce the levels of the virus so that they are undetectable, and cannot be passed on.
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AIDS is the third and final stage of the viral infection. AIDS is different from HIV, and it is a different diagnosis. It occurs because the immune system becomes vulnerable to a range of infections. Symptoms at this stage are related to the various infections that may develop. They can vary greatly.
Some of the more common symptoms include:
- chronic diarrhea
- blotches under the skin or in the mouth and nose
- blurred vision
- rapid weight loss
- sores in the mouth, anus, or genitals
- continuous swelling of the lymph glands
- extreme tiredness
- fever that keeps returning
- neurological problems
The symptoms associated with AIDS vary widely, and a diagnosis cannot be made on this basis. Tests will be needed to make a formal diagnosis.
The symptoms of HIV or AIDS alone is not sufficient to tell if someone has the virus. This is because they vary widely and can mimic other conditions.
Diagnosis of HIV
As the body tries to combat the virus, it produces antibodies. So, HIV is diagnosed by a blood test or oral swab that looks for the presence of these antibodies. The test also checks for the proteins produced by the virus during replication.
The time taken for these antibodies to show up in blood can range from several weeks to several months, so it may be necessary to have a repeat test.
Early detecting is vital to fighting HIV because those who get tested early after exposure are at a lower risk of transmitting the virus to others, as they can receive effective treatment.
Diagnosis of AIDS
For a person to be diagnosed with AIDS, they must have HIV and have a CD4 cell count result of under 200 cells/mm3 or are experiencing certain opportunistic infections.
People with HIV can now live well as compared to those without the infection due to proper treatment plans and early intervention. A person with HIV could develop AIDS within a few years. However, many people with HIV will never develop AIDS, because of effective treatment plan. Without treatment, a person who develops AIDS can expect to live for another 3 years, unless they experience a fatal complication.
Treatment consists of antiretroviral therapy (ART) which is to be taken for life. Once treatment starts, it is important to continue to avoid drug resistance. People with either HIV or AIDS normally use a combination of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) drugs that help to slow the virus progress.
Several steps can be taken to prevent contraction of HIV. These include:
- Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP): This can be taken regularly to prevent HIV from developing, even if a person is exposed to the virus.
- Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP): This is an emergency treatment given to reduce the chances of HIV infection after exposure to the virus. To be effective, it should be taken within 72 hours of exposure, and the full 28-day course of treatment completed.
- Using condoms: Engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse is one of the main avenues through which many infections including HIV is spread. Using condoms can help protect against many health problems.
- Pregnant women getting treated: If HIV is present during pregnancy, medications can help prevent the virus from affecting the child. Additional steps include cesarean delivery and bottle feeding rather than breast-feeding in certain circumstances.
- Avoiding sharing needles: Needle exchange programs exist to reduce the need to share syringes and needles.
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