HIV - symptoms and treatment

HIV - the human immunodeficiency virus - is an infection that can be transmitted through sexual intercourse, sharing needles for drug injection, and through a mother’s placenta or breast milk to her child. If an infected person remains untreated for long enough, they can develop AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) - a condition which weakens the immune system and makes it more vulnerable to life-threatening diseases and cancers. In most cases, untreated HIV leads to AIDS in about 8 to 10 years.

Currently, there’s no cure for HIV, but there are treatment methods that can help suppress the virus to the point where it cannot lead to the development of AIDS. Needless to say, the sooner a person gets diagnosed with HIV, the sooner they can get started on a treatment that can drastically improve their life expectancy and allow them to live a mostly normal life, without developing AIDS.

HIV/AIDS Symptoms

If you think you may have been exposed to HIV, here are some of the symptoms you should look out for, depending on how much time has passed since the supposed exposure:

Primary infection

The primary infection symptoms could occur between 2 and 4 weeks after a person has been exposed to the virus, and many of them are similar to symptoms associated with the common flu. The typical primary infection symptoms are:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Sore Throat
  • Muscle aches and pain in the joints
  • Coughing
  • Mouth sores
  • Diarrhea

While you should definitely take note of such symptoms that you may experience, especially if you think you may have been exposed to HIV, it’s also important to not jump to any conclusions. As said, those symptoms are very common and can be caused by a very wide variety of other conditions, including the common flu.

Latent infection

In this stage of the development of HIV, which comes past the first month since the initial infection, the virus will usually cause no symptoms, all the while it is slowly undermining and degrading a person’s immune system by killing white blood cells.

In most cases, this stage would last for years until any actual symptoms start to appear. If the infected person is undergoing antiretroviral therapy (ART), the latent infection stage can be extended indefinitely, halting the development of AIDS and preventing any related symptoms.

Symptomatic HIV and progression of AIDS

Without proper treatment, over time, HIV will destroy enough white blood cells to degrade the immune system to the point where the infected person would start to experience the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Yeast infection in the mouth
  • Pneumonia

After more time has passed, the virus will eventually lead to the development of AIDS, at which point the aforementioned symptoms would become more severe and persistent. Additionally, once a person has AIDS, they become a lot more likely to develop other serious conditions and diseases.

Regardless of how much time has passed since you think you may have been exposed to HIV and regardless of what symptoms you may be experiencing, the only way to be certain whether you have the virus is to get tested by a healthcare professional, so it’s strongly advised to do that if you have any suspicion of having HIV/AIDS.

HIV treatment

As mentioned at the start, currently a cure for HIV doesn’t exist, meaning that if you have the virus in your body, it’s virtually impossible to fully get rid of it. However, a great deal can be done to suppress the virus and prevent it from causing the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, especially if the infection is diagnosed early.

The medications used to treat and suppress HIV are called antiretroviral therapy (ART) drugs and if an infected person gets started on them early, they may not develop AIDS for a very long time, if ever. The access to and use of ART has dramatically increased the life-expectancy of people infected with HIV in the US and other developed countries, where ART is easily accessible.

There are many different ART medications, categorized in different classes. Normally, ART treatment involves the use of two drugs from a given class and one more type of drug from a different class. There are also some ART options that combine several HIV drugs into a single pill that must be taken each day.

Getting started on ART

Antiretroviral therapy should be started as soon as possible for anyone who carries HIV. ART medications give the best results on people who have an undetectable HIV viral load in their blood, as those people are the most likely to remain healthy and lead normal lifestyles. That said, regardless of the viral load, ART is always recommended for people infected with HIV.

For anyone undergoing antiretroviral therapy, it is crucial that the medications are taken according to a health professional’s prescription, without skipping any doses. This gives the best chances of keeping the immune system strong, lowering the likelihood of developing AIDS, and reducing the possibility of developing HIV strains resistant to medications.

Lifestyle considerations

To get the best chances of living a normal and healthy life, what can also help, in addition to taking ART medications, is applying certain lifestyle suggestions that can help keep the body and immune system as strong as possible.

  • Food choices - Making sure to eat nutrition and vitamin-rich foods, such as raw vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains is important to provide your body with the best type of nourishment possible. It is also recommended to avoid raw or undercooked meat, eggs and fish, as those can contain bacteria that triggers illnesses to which HIV-positive people have increased susceptibility.
  • Vaccinations - Since HIV, and especially AIDS, make it more likely to get infected with other viruses, it’s important to get vaccinations for widespread illnesses, such as influenza, pneumonia, hepatitis A and B, and HPV. However, HIV-positive people should only get vaccines with inactivated viruses, as ones with live viruses may not be safe.
  • Pets - Pets can be good for emotional support, but they often carry parasites that can lead to infections to which an HIV-positive person may have increased susceptibility. It is, therefore, important to be very careful with pets and to always thoroughly wash your hands after handling them.

Further information

Lack of information and knowledge has always been one of the main reasons for the spread of HIV and the development of AIDS in HIV-positive people. However, nowadays, there is a tendency of increasing the awareness regarding this horrible virus, and this is directly reflected in the higher numbers of people living normal lives with HIV, without developing AIDS.

In other words, being informed is one of the best way to help save more lives, and one of the best ways to be informed is to enroll in a specialized HIV/AIDS awareness class, where you can have access to in-depth information about all aspects of this virus, including its distribution, risk factors, preventative measures, symptoms, treatment options, and ways to live a normal life as an HIV-positive person.