All About HIV

What Is HIV?

HIV stands for the human immunodeficiency virus. In North America, the disease first began to show up in the early 1980s. HIV works by invading a hosts body and attacking the white blood cells. This can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). AIDS is the most advanced form of the disease, and deadly. Should a person carrying the HIV virus have their white blood cell count fall to an extremely low level, they are vulnerable to develop full-blown AIDS.

A person with AIDS eventually loses the ability to defend themselves against even mild infections such as the flu or cold. Their immune system has been basically destroyed, and the body cannot protect itself. While research has come a long way in developing drugs and treatments that can slow the progression of HIV and AIDS in some sufferers, there is still no cure for the disease.

HIV Symptoms for Men

For both men and women who have been exposed to HIV, there are generally three separate stages that an infected individual will go through. The earliest symptoms that a man with HIV may experience are flu-like, and this early stage of the illness is called the acute or seroconversion phase. This will occur a few weeks after one has been exposed to the virus. The body at this point is trying to fight the infection off. Feeling of nausea, fatigue, fever, and a loss of appetite are common. There may be periods of diarrhea, and gastrointestinal discomfort.

The HIV then usually goes dormant for a period of time. This is the asymptomatic stage of the illness, where the body stops battling with the virus, and the infected individual usually feels better. This stage can last for up to a decade or more in some carriers. It is thus easy to believe that one is HIV-negative, as there are no overt signs or symptoms of the disease. Nevertheless, the virus is continuing to attack and reduce the number of white blood cells in its host.

The third phase of an HIV infection is when a carrier's immune system has become severely compromised, and their white blood cell count is dangerously low. When the CD-4 T-cell count (the indicator of white blood cells present) falls below 200, the person is considered to be suffering from AIDS.

HIV Symptoms for Women

Women infected with HIV will also go through the three stages as mentioned above. Initially displaying flu-like symptoms, she will then enter an asymptomatic stage. Finally, as her white blood cell count continues to drop, she will likely be diagnosed with AIDS.

Symptoms of AIDS can include extreme fatigue and fevers that last a week or more. The skin may bruise easily, and purple spots appear on parts of her body. The lymph nodes may become swollen and tender, and there may be severe bouts of diarrhea and severe weigh-loss. Yeast infections may take hold in a woman's vagina, throat, or mouth.

How Do You Get HIV?

HIV can be spread by having unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected man or woman. Those who are bisexual, heterosexual or homosexual can all fall prey to HIV. Intravenous drug users who share needles can also easily spread the virus. Improperly sanitized tattoo and piercing tools, or medical instruments can transfer HIV from one person to another.

Risks and Effects of HIV

HIV has no cure, and frequently eventually kills its victims. Each case is slightly different, but perhaps half of all those carrying HIV will develop AIDS within 10 years of being infected. There is a high risk that those who develop AIDS will get Kaposi's sarcoma, tuberculosis, and any number of other opportunistic and/or parasitic sicknesses that will take advantage of a weak immune system.

There is also the danger of developing an AIDS-induced form of dementia or wasting syndrome. A person suffering from AIDS may lose the ability to prevent the growth of certain cancers that they would normally be able to fight off.

HIV Treatment

HIV treatments are still experimental and often very expensive. Doctors attempt to support the immune system of an HIV/AIDS patient by putting together a “cocktail” of drugs that can help the body fight infections. In some cases, these medicines can add years to an AIDS patient's life. It is believed that early detection and treatment of HIV/AIDS is a key in providing effective treatment.

HIV Testing

Testing for HIV is common and easily accessible to most people in the developed world. The test involves looking for signs of HIV antibodies in the blood of a potential carrier. It can take several months for the antibodies to show up in blood of some people who have been recently exposed to the virus. Often, more than one test is performed to confirm the results.

Complications from Untreated HIV

A wide variety of infections and cancers can result from an HIV patient that fails to receive any treatment. Each patient is unique, and doctors often must experiment with different combinations of available medicines. If administered early on, these drug cocktails can extend the length and improve the quality of an HIV-positive person's life.

Can We Prevent HIV?

Use condoms during sex, or stay true to one partner who has also tested negative for HIV. This will greatly reduce your chances of ever having to worry about an HIV/AIDS infection. Never share needles, and be careful where you get your tattoos, piercings and any medical procedures performed.

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