Posted 26 September, 2023
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome & is a serious and potentially life-threatening disease caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). AIDS occurs when the immune system is severely damaged, making the body vulnerable to infections and diseases that a healthy immune system would normally be able to fight off.
HIV attacks and weakens the immune system, which is responsible for fighting off infections and diseases. Over time, the virus can destroy immune cells, such as CD4 T-cells, and reduce the body's ability to fight off infections. Without treatment, HIV can progress to AIDS, which is the most advanced stage of the disease.
Causes of AIDS
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the primary cause of AIDS.
- HIV is transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.
- Unprotected sexual contact with an infected person is the most common mode of transmission.
- Sharing needles or syringes with an infected person, particularly among people who inject drugs, is also a major mode of transmission.
- From mother to child during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding, an infected mother can pass HIV to her child.
- Other modes of transmission include blood transfusions, organ transplants, and accidental exposure to HIV through needle-stick injuries or other occupational exposures.
Symptoms of AIDS
- Early stage symptoms of HIV infection may include fever, headache, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash. However, these symptoms are often mild and can be mistaken for other illnesses.
- As HIV progresses, more severe symptoms can develop, such as chronic diarrhea, weight loss, night sweats, and frequent infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.
- Other symptoms of advanced HIV/AIDS may include skin rashes or bumps, mouth sores, genital sores, and neurological problems like confusion, memory loss, and neuropathy.
- People with AIDS are also at higher risk for developing certain cancers, such as Kaposi's sarcoma, lymphoma, and cervical cancer, as well as opportunistic infections like cryptococcal meningitis, toxoplasmosis, and pneumocystis pneumonia.
- The time it takes for HIV to progress to AIDS varies widely from person to person, and some people with HIV may never develop AIDS. However, without treatment, most people with HIV will eventually progress to AIDS within 10 years or longer.
- It is important to note that many of the symptoms of HIV and AIDS can be caused by other illnesses, and the only way to know for sure if someone is infected with HIV is to get tested.
Treatment of AIDS
There is currently no cure for AIDS, but with early diagnosis and proper treatment, people with HIV can live long and healthy lives. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a combination of medicines that can suppress the virus and prevent it from damaging the immune system. ART can also reduce the risk of transmission to others.
The goal of ART is to reduce the amount of HIV in the blood to undetectable levels, which can take several months. ART can have side effects, including nausea, fatigue, and diarrhea, but these side effects usually go away within a few weeks. It is important to take ART every day, as directed by a healthcare provider, to ensure the medication is effective.
In addition to ART, people with HIV may need treatment for other infections and conditions, such as tuberculosis or sexually transmitted infections. They may also need to make lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise, to improve their overall health and well-being.
Prevention of AIDS
Prevention remains a key strategy in the fight against AIDS. This includes promoting safe sex practices, such as using condoms and reducing the number of sexual partners. Needle exchange programs and drug treatment programs can help to reduce the risk of HIV transmission among people who inject drugs.
HIV testing and counseling is also a critical component of prevention efforts. Early diagnosis of HIV can help people living with HIV to access treatment early, reduce the risk of transmission to others, and improve their overall health outcomes.
It is important to note that people with HIV who are on ART and have undetectable levels of the virus in their blood are much less likely to transmit the virus to others. This is known as U=U, or undetectable equals untransmittable.