Human Immunodeficiency Virus & Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is like many other viruses including those that cause the common cold or flu, but the important difference is that over time the body can usually clear most viruses from the body however this is not the case with HIV. The immune system is unable to rid the HIV virus from the body and when inside the human body the HIV attacks the CD4 Cells, the cells which the body use to fight off infection and disease. The HIV Virus invades the CD4 Cells and cleverly makes more copies of itself and then destroys the CD4 Cells.

What is AIDS?

Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the final stage of the HIV infection. Over time the HIV virus has destroyed many of the CD4 Cells within the body, which has damaged the immune system so much that the body is often susceptible to opportunistic conditions and infections such as liver disease, various cancers such as Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), tuberculosis and Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP). Other AIDS related conditions include HIV dementia and wasting syndrome (dramatic weightless)

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted, lives and reproduces in blood and other bodily fluids such as semen, pre-seminal fluid and breast milk.

The most common ways of transmission are:

• Sexual intercourse with someone who is HIV Positive.

• HIV Positive mother’s passing the virus to their baby – before or during birth or through breast feeding.

• Sharing needles or injection equipment with a user who is HIV positive.

• Or through Occupational Exposure such as healthcare workers who come into contact with infected blood.

• Non-Tested / Non-Treated blood transfusions and blood-products derived from an infected donor.

The Effects of Living with HIV

The HIV virus gradually weakens the body and it’s natural defences. The initial recognisable symptoms could be mild enough to go unnoticed, but after a few weeks you may experience cold or flu like symptoms for a time. This is known as the “first stage” of HIV which is called the acute infection stage. You may not feel extremely ill or show serious symptoms but there are large quantities of the virus in the blood as the virus duplicates or reproduces rapidly.

Acute symptoms can include:

• Fever

• Chills

• Night Sweats

• Diarrhoea

• Headache

• Muscle Aches

• Joint Pain

• Sore Throat

• Rash

• Swollen Lymph Glands

• Mouth or Genital Ulcers

The next stage is known as “the clinical latent infection state”, this is the period of time between acute infection and when the infected person has progressed to AIDS. The amount of time it can take a person to develop AIDS varies widely - estimates state that 5% of those infected with HIV develop AIDS within 1 - 2 years without treatment. 70% of people with untreated HIV will develop AIDS within 5 - 8 years.

As the virus develops the CD4 count drastically declines and leads to symptoms such as:

• Fatigue

• Shortness of Breath

• Persistent Cough

• Fever

• Swollen Lymph Nodes

• Extreme Weightless

• Diarrhoea

Not only are there noticeable physical symptoms, there are significant neurological complications too. HIV- associated dementia or AIDS dementia complex are two conditions that seriously affect the brain function. AIDS also puts an increased risk of inflammation of the brain and spinal cord and can cause confusion, severe headaches and seizures.

Common complications of AIDS include:

• Memory Impairment

• Anxiety

• Depression

• Balance Difficulties

• Vision Problems

• Skin Conditions/Herpes/Painful Rash

In very developed cases of AIDS hallucinations and psychosis can occur.

Without treatment the HIV infection will develop into AIDS. AIDS is the final stage and as a result, the immune system is so severely damaged the body can no longer fight off the diseases or infections and ultimately will lead to death. Without treatment HIV is fatal.