Understanding HIV/AIDS: Stages, Strains, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Aarohi Batra
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Dr. Kaushal

Review medical content on WOW Rx Pharmacy, so that accurate drug use information is easily accessible to everybody.
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hiv/aids

Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that weakens the immune system and contributes to the development of AIDS.

AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, is the last stage of HIV.

It makes people vulnerable to numerous infections and cancers due to compromised immune systems.

This condition has already claimed up to 40.4 million lives, as per the WHO, and is still affecting many people worldwide.

However, early diagnosis and treatment can prevent damage to the immune system and play a vital role in preventing HIV transmission.

This comprehensive article will shed light on HIV/AIDS symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and preventive tips for increasing life expectancy.

It will also debunk some myths about HIV and the facts associated with it.

What is HIV

HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is an STD that attacks the immune system or cells that fight against the disease-causing pathogens.

As per the WHO, almost 39 million people are living with HIV at the end of the year 2022.

It is recognized to affect up to 0.7% of adults aged between 15 and 49, and the number is still increasing globally.

Types of HIV

In the comparative study of HIV strains, there are two primary strains of HIV, i.e., HIV-1 and HIV-2.

A quick overview can help in understanding the distinctions between these two strains:

AspectsHIV-1HIV-2
PrevalenceGlobally widespreadLimited to the West African nations
TransmissionEasily transmittedLess efficiently transmitted
Viral load (amount of virus present in human blood)HigherLower
Progression to AIDSRapid progressionSlower progression
TreatmentAntiretroviral TherapyAntiretroviral Therapy with variable response to the treatment

What are HIV/AIDS symptoms

Within weeks of getting HIV infection, people can start noticing some symptoms of HIV during different stages of HIV.

The various symptoms of HIV are as follows:

Acute HIV infection

Fever can cause dehydrationSource: solidcolours_from_Getty_Images
Frequent fever

Almost 80% of infected people can notice the first few signs of HIV infection that may seem like the flu.

The symptoms are as follows:

  • Elevated body temperature and frequent fever
  • Sudden chill sensation
  • Sweating
  • Body rashes
  • Sores and pain in the throat
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Sores in the oral cavity
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Muscle pain

In some cases, this stage of HIV shows such mild symptoms that it passes without being noticed or mistaken for a common cold or flu.

Chronic HIV infection

The second stage of HIV infection is often asymptomatic and may exhibit no symptoms.

Though the virus inside the body is active and constantly damaging the immune system, the person may feel healthy and fine.

AIDS

If the previous stages of HIV remain undiagnosed and untreated, the virus can progress and cause a deadly condition, AIDS.

AIDS can include the following symptoms:

  • Sudden weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Persistent Diarrhea for more than a week
  • Lung inflammation
  • Recurrent fever and night sweats

Four stages of HIV

There are four complex stages of HIV infection as follows:

Seroconversion illness

Once a person contracts HIV infection, the body’s defense mechanism comes into action. 

It develops antibodies to fight against the infection-causing pathogen.

This production of antibodies is called Seroconversion. 

Asymptomatic HIV

After Seroconversion is over, most people feel normal and don’t experience any symptoms.

This stage of HIV is called the asymptomatic stage and, surprisingly, can last for many years.

During this time, people may feel healthy. 

Still, the virus is active inside their body, infects body cells, and damages the immune system.

Symptomatic HIV

Once the long stage of asymptomatic HIV is over, without treatment, it worsens the conditions.

The longer you live with untreated HIV, the more the chances of developing infections and cancers.

Late-stage HIV/AIDS

AIDS is the last stage of untreated HIV.

If the condition is left untreated, HIV can cause more severe damage to the immune system. 

It may cause many opportunistic infections and cancers to harm the body and worsen the condition.

Opportunistic infections, such as Pneumonia, Candidiasis, and Salmonella, mostly occur in people with weaker immune systems than healthy people.

How is HIV transmitted

couple on bedSource: Syda_productions
Unprotected sexual activity

HIV can be transmitted in the following ways:

Unprotected sexual activity

One of the ways of HIV transmission is through unprotected sexual intercourse.

The virus can be present in the body fluid, such as vaginal fluid, semen, and rectal fluid.

Myth: HIV can spread through kissing an infected person.
Fact: An infected person can not transmit HIV/AIDS through saliva to a healthy person. The saliva of an infected person usually contains a non-infectious component of HIV that indicates the possible breakdown or inactivation of the infectious HIV.

Sharing needles

HIV infection can be transmitted through intravenous drug use involving the sharing of needles with an infected person.

The virus may be present in a person’s blood and transmit into a healthy person’s blood.

Perinatal transmission

HIV can be transmitted from a mother to a child during childbirth or breastfeeding.

This mode of infection transmission is called perinatal transmission.

Complications associated with HIV/AIDS

Without proper treatment, HIV can lead to severe life-threatening complications, such as:

  • Tuberculosis (TB): Severe damage to the immune system can cause increased susceptibility to TB
  • Severe bacterial infections: Many bacterial infections can affect the immune system and increase the vulnerability of the disease
  • Cryptococcal meningitis: A fungal infection that can affect the central nervous system
  • Aggravation of other complex diseases: HIV can increase the risk of Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and Smallpox
  • Cancers: Untreated HIV can increase the risk of Kaposi Sarcoma and Lymphomas

How to diagnose HIV/AIDS

As per the WHO, three types of HIV tests are as follows:

Antigen/antibody test

An antigen/antibody test detects HIV antigens and antibodies in the blood.

Antigens are foreign substances that activate the immune system and develop antibodies to fight against the pathogens.

In this test, blood is drawn from the vein and sent to the laboratories to detect HIV antibodies.

Antibody test

hivSource: ktsimage_from_GettyImages
HIV blood sample

The antibody test detects the HIV antibodies in the blood or oral fluid.

Most of the rapid HIV tests and self-tests (oral-fluid tests) approved by the FDA are antibody tests. 

It can detect HIV much sooner if blood is drawn from a vein rather than a finger stick or oral fluid.

Nucleic Acid Test

The Nucleic Acid Test, or NAT, looks for the virus in the blood.

A healthcare practitioner will draw blood from the vein and send it to the lab for detection of the virus through an HIV viral load test.

It can detect the virus sooner than any other test.

HIV/AIDS treatments

There is no cure for HIV or AIDS.

However, there are many medications to control HIV and prevent severe complications.

These medications for HIV are called Antiretroviral Therapy (ART).

These combination pills are effective in slowing the HIV progression and preventing further destruction of T-cells.

People infected with HIV have to take these treatment regimens every day.

Some of the medications used for HIV treatment are as follows:

  • Non-nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs)
  • Protease Inhibitors (PIs)
  • Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs)
  • Attachment inhibitors
  • Post-attachment inhibitors
  • Integrase Strand Transfer Inhibitors

The HIV treatment regimen includes medicines from at least two different drug classes. 

Thus, it can effectively prevent the multiplication of HIV. 

The purpose of including drugs from different classes is as follows:

  • The drugs account for individual drug resistance
  • Prevent HIV from creating drug-resistant strains
  • Virus suppression in the blood

Therefore, it is necessary to consult a healthcare practitioner and seek prompt medical treatment to prevent further damage to the immune system.

Warning:
HIV treatment may lead to side effects in some people, such as nausea, vomiting, and rashes, or can cause serious complications, such as kidney, liver, and heart problems. To avoid such situations, consult a healthcare practitioner and seek medical treatment for faster recovery.

How many years do HIV patients live with treatments

With early diagnosis and continued ART treatment, the virus gets suppressed, and people can expect a healthy life expectancy.

According to HIV.gov, more than half of people diagnosed with HIV in the US are living a happy life up to the age of 50 or older.

Therefore, it is necessary to consult a healthcare practitioner and seek medical HIV treatment to prevent further damage to the immune system and faster recovery.

HIV prevention tips

use condomsSource: Signature_images
Use condoms

The following preventive measures can be practiced for safe sexual intercourse:

Use barriers

Using barriers, such as condoms, is one of the best ways to prevent the exchange of body fluids through sexual intercourse.

It is necessary to educate youth about the importance of condom use for safer sex and prevent transmission of STDs.

Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)

Pre-exposure Prophylaxis, commonly called PrEP, is an effective way of preventing HIV transmission.

People at a higher risk of HIV prevent transmission of the virus through sexual intercourse or injection drug use.

It can reduce the chances of acquiring HIV by 99% if taken consistently.

Fact:
PrEP is effective in preventing HIV transmission from mother to baby, with the chances being as low as 1%.

Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)

Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is another important medical intervention in the step toward preventing HIV transmission.

It is a short treatment that lasts for 28 days duration.

PEP involves taking prompt HIV treatment, i.e., ART, after exposure to the virus through unprotected sexual intercourse or needlestick injury.

The prophylaxis must be initiated within 72 hours after the exposure for faster recovery.

Needle and syringe programs

Using contaminated needles and syringes has always been a challenge and increases the risk of transmission of HIV.

By providing clean, sanitized, and contamination-free needles, these programs can reduce the risk associated with HIV transmission.

Moreover, it is important to understand that HIV or AIDS are not social taboo and are treatable with early diagnosis and treatment.

Educating people about the early diagnosis and treatment of the condition is essential in reducing mortalities worldwide.

Therefore, it is always advisable to consult a healthcare practitioner and seek medical attention for a faster recovery and increasing life expectancy.

Conclusion

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can progress into AIDS if left without treatment.

There are four stages of HIV, which are seroconversion, asymptomatic HIV, symptomatic HIV, and late-stage HIV/AIDS.

There are two strains of HIV, i.e., HIV-1 and HIV-2. These strains are distinct in their prevalence, transmission, and progression.

HIV can show symptoms within a few weeks after exposure to the virus, such as fever, sweating, fatigue, body aches, and severe complications like cancer.

A healthy person can acquire HIV through unprotected sexual intercourse, body fluids, sharing contaminated needles, and perinatal transmission.

Once acquired, early diagnosis is essential to detect the virus. It can be done through HIV tests, such as antigen/antibody and NAT tests.

After diagnosis, a healthcare practitioner may prescribe Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) for the treatment of HIV/AIDS and increase the life expectancy of people.

Further, it is necessary to take preventive measures such as condoms, PrEP, and PEP to prevent transmission and progression of HIV.

Therefore, consult a healthcare practitioner to seek medical diagnosis and treatment for a healthy life.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV can be transmitted through sexual intercourse that involves the exchange of body fluids. It can also be transmitted through sharing needles and from mother to child during childbirth or breastfeeding.

How long can an HIV patient live?

With early diagnosis and continued ART treatment, the virus gets suppressed, and people can expect a healthy life expectancy. According to HIV.gov, more than half of people diagnosed with HIV in the US are living a happy life up to the age of 50 or older.

What are the stages of HIV?

The first stage of HIV is seroconversion, where the body shows symptoms and develops antibodies against the virus. Secondly, an asymptomatic HIV stage is present where the virus stays active and harms the body. In the third stage, the person gets severely ill, and finally, the late stage, called AIDS.

How long does HIV take to show up?

An infected individual can start noticing HIV symptoms within weeks of getting HIV infection. The symptoms may include elevated body temperature, sweating, body rashes, sores, pain in the throat, and swollen lymph nodes. Consult a healthcare practitioner and seek prompt medical treatment.

Is HIV curable?

No, HIV is not curable. However, Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) controls HIV and prevents severe complications. These medicines are effective in slowing the HIV progression and preventing further destruction of T-cells. People infected with HIV have to take these treatment regimens every day.

Citations:
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