HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks cells that help the body fight infections, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. It is spread through contact with specific body fluids of an HIV-positive person, usually during unprotected sex (sex without a condom or HIV anti-HIV treatment or treatment), or in combination with an injection material.
Left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
The human body cannot eradicate HIV and there is no effective cure for HIV. So, once you have HIV, you have it for life.
However, by taking HIV medication (called antiretroviral therapy or ART), people with HIV can live longer and healthier lives and prevent the transmission of HIV to their sexual partners. In addition, there are effective ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections or drug use, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
It was first diagnosed in 1981, HIV is the cause of the most deadly and persistent pandemic.
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What is AIDS?
AIDS is a late stage of HIV infection that occurs when the immune system is severely damaged by the virus.
In the U.S., most people with HIV do not have AIDS because taking daily HIV medication as prescribed prevents the disease from progressing.
A person with HIV is considered to be infected with AIDS if :-
Its CD4 cell count falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (200 cells / mm3). (For a person with a healthy immune system, CD4 counts are between 500 and 1,600 cells / mm3.) OR
they have one or more opportunistic infections regardless of their CD4 count.
Without HIV treatment, people with AIDS live for about 3 years. If someone has a chronic illness, life expectancy without treatment decreases by about 1 year. An HIV drug can still help people at this stage of HIV infection, and can even save lives. But people who start antiretroviral treatment immediately after getting HIV to get additional benefits — which is why HIV testing is so important.
The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. Testing is easy. You can ask your healthcare provider to test you for HIV. Many medical clinics, substance abuse programs, community health centers, and hospitals also offer you. You can also buy a home inspection kit at the pharmacy or online.
HIV testing is also a choice. Self-testing allows people to test for HIV and get their results in their own homes or another private place. You can buy a self-test kit at the pharmacy or online. Some health departments or community-based organizations also provide free self-testing kits.
The symptoms of HIV and AIDS vary, depending on the stage of infection.
Primary infection (dangerous HIV)
Some people who become infected with HIV develop a flu-like illness two to four weeks after the virus enters the body. The disease, known as primary (dangerous) HIV infection, can last for several weeks. Possible signs and symptoms include :-
Muscle pain and joint pain
Sore throat and sore mouth sores
Swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck
These symptoms can be so mild that you may not notice them. However, your viral load (viral load) is very high at this time. As a result, the infection spreads more easily during the primary infection than during the next stage.
Clinical Latent infection (Chronic HIV)
At this stage of infection, HIV is still present in the body and white blood cells. However, most people may not have any symptoms at all during this time.
This stage can last for many years if you do not receive antiretroviral therapy (ART). Some people get very sick very quickly.
Symptomatic HIV infection
As the virus continues to multiply and destroys your immune system cells – the cells in your body that help fight germs – you may have chronic illnesses or chronic symptoms such as:
Inflammation of the lymph nodes – often one of the first signs of HIV infection
Thrush infection of the mouth (thrush)
Shingles (herpes zoster)
Progress in AIDS
Thanks to better antiviral treatment, more people with HIV in the U.S. today do not have AIDS. Left untreated, HIV usually turns into AIDS in 8 to 10 years.
When AIDS occurs, your immune system is severely damaged. You will be more likely to develop opportunistic infections or opportunistic cancers – diseases that will not cause illness in a person with a healthy immune system.
Symptoms of some of these diseases may include :-
Inflammatory lymph nodes
Persistent white spots or unusual sores on your tongue or mouth
Persistent, unexplained fatigue
Skin rash or bumps
HIV is a variety of viruses that can be transmitted to African monkeys. Scientists suspect that the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) became contagious when humans ate the meat of infected monkeys.
Once infected in humans, the virus evolved into what we now know as HIV. This may have happened as early as the 1920s.
HIV spread from person to person throughout Africa within a few decades. Eventually, the virus spread to other parts of the world. Scientists first discovered HIV in a human blood sample in 1959.
HIV is thought to have been present in the United States since the 1970s, but it did not become public knowledge until the 1980s.
Learn more about the history of HIV and AIDS in the United States.
HIV treatment options
Treatment should begin as soon as possible after a diagnosis of HIV, regardless of the viral load.
The main treatment for HIV is antiretroviral therapy, a combination of daily drugs that prevent the virus from reproducing. This helps protect CD4 cells, keeping the immune system strong enough to take action against the disease.
Antiretroviral treatment helps keep HIV from spreading to AIDS. It also helps to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others.
If treatment is effective, the amount of virus in the blood will be “undetectable.” The person still has HIV, but the virus does not show up on test results.
However, the virus is still in the body. And if that person stops taking antiretroviral treatment, the amount of virus in the blood will increase again, and HIV can start attacking CD4 cells again.
Learn more about how HIV treatment works.
Many antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) are approved for the treatment of HIV. They work to prevent HIV from reproducing and destroying CD4 cells, which help the immune system produce a response to infection.
This helps reduce the risk of HIV-related complications, as well as transmitting the virus to others.
These antiretrovirals are divided into six classes :-
Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs).
non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs).
CCR5 antagonists, also known as entry inhibitors.
integrase strand transfer inhibitors.