Do you or someone you know suffer from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)? Are you at high-risk of becoming infected with HIV? Princess Diana once said “HIV does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug: Heaven knows they need it.”
The first cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in 1981, with over 25 million people dying from the virus since. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/ AIDS (UNAIDS), there were 35.3 million people living with HIV in 2012, with 2.3 million people becoming newly infected, and 1.6 million people dying from AIDS related causes. In the UK alone, there were approximately 98,000 people living with HIV in 2012. That is about 1 in every 650 people. It was found that the majority of these 98,000 people were infected through unprotected sex (53,000 heterosexuals and 41,000 gay and bisexual men).
What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV is a retrovirus that is spread through bodily fluids and infects ones immune system cells (specifically the CD4 or T-cells), impairing or destroying their function. Once infected with HIV, your body is unable to get rid of the infection making it difficult to fight other diseases or infections. HIV is seen in three stages: the acute infection/seroconversion period, the asymptomatic/dormant period, and AIDS.
AIDS is the occurrence of any of the twenty or more infections of HIV-related cancers. AIDS is also diagnosed once CD4 or T-cells drop below 200. In a normal healthy body CD4 counts are on average between 500-1,600 cells/mm3.
Stages of HIV
Stage one the acute infection/seroconversation period, is normally seen within two to six weeks of becoming infected and presents flu like symptoms. During this stage the body is attempting to fight the virus but the virus is using the CD4 or T-cells to copy itself, producing a larger amount of HIV. With such a high amount of HIV in blood, one’s ability to spread the virus to others is highest during this time.
Stage two the asymptomatic/dormant period, HIV is producing at a much slower pace but is still active of course. During this stage it is possible to feel healthy with little to no symptoms until the middle/end of the stage when the body is becoming weak. This stage may last up to a decade for those who are not receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) and up to several decades for those who are receiving ART. Remember that it is still possible to transmit HIV during this stage even when being treated.
Stage three AIDS, is when the body has become so badly damaged that it is not longer able to fight infections or disease and becomes very vulnerable. During this stage medical treatment is a must, without treatment life expectancy is around one year.
Who is at Risk?
If you are having unprotected sex, sharing sex toys, sharing needles, or sharing any type of injection equipment, you are putting yourself at high-risk for being infected with HIV.
Testing for HIV
The only way to know if you are infected with HIV is to get tested which is done through a blood test or series of blood tests. If you believe that you have or have put yourself at high-risk of being infected seek medical attention immediately. The quicker HIV is detected, the more likely treatment will be successful.
Living with HIV and Treatment
Although once infected you will always have HIV, today’s treatments are very effective and allow those infected to live happy, healthy, long lives. Today there are emergency HIV medications (Post-exposure prophylaxis PEP) that can be administered within 72 hours (3 days) of being infected. This medication however is only effective if taken within those 72 hours, the longer you wait the less effective the medication becomes. This treatment lasts one month and has been known to provide serious side effects.
Antiretrovirals (ARVs) are also used to help treat HIV, which slow the spreading process of the virus through the body. Once HIV treatment begins, it is likely that you will have to continue treatment for the remainder of your life. Today the trend of using more natural remedies is becoming more and more popular. However, what many people do not realize is that medication and natural remedies may interact with one another making medications (the one’s used to keep you healthy and alive) ineffective. ARVs can interact with St. John’s Wort (a herbaceous plant/shrub with yellow flowers (5 pedals)), over-the-counter medications, and recreational drugs (i.e. cocaine). You should never take other medications or recreational drugs along with ARVs (or any other medication) unless you have discussed with your physician first.
A healthy diet, exercise, as well as good hygiene will of course also help provide you with a healthy body to prolong life.