AIDS

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Overview

Acquired Immuno-deficiency Syndrome or AIDS is a chronic, life-threatening disease caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Once in the system, this virus attacks the body’s immune system and eventually leads to its failure after years of infection. This makes the body vulnerable to a number of opportunistic infections, cancerous conditions and diseases not usually found in a body with intact defense mechanism.

Causes

HIV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can be transmitted from an infected individual to others. It can be spread by:

  • Sexual intercourse
  • Using/sharing contaminated needles
  • Blood transfusions
  • During pregnancy or delivery
  • Breastfeeding

Risk factors for this disease include:

  • Unprotected sexual practices
  • Pre-existing STIs
  • Intravenous drug abuse
  • Not being circumcised

Symptoms

The course of AIDS has three distinct phases:

  1. Primary Infection (Acute HIV):

A month or two after the virus has entered thee body, the patient experiences a flu like illness which includes:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Body pain
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  1. Clinical Latent Infection (chronic HIV):

Besides occasional lymphatic swelling in some people, this stage is usually asymptomatic and can last for up to 10 years if there is no ongoing treatment.

  1. Progression to AIDS:

After the virus has replicated enough to render the immune system useless, the body becomes defenceless against common germs. We call it AIDS when the immune system is severely compromised. Following conditions can develop:

  • Recurring fever
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Oral yeast infections
  • Shingles
  • Chronic, severe diarrhoea
  • Persistent fatigue

Complications

The diseases that are common in a person with AIDS can be of the following types:

Infections:
Tuberculosis, Candidiasis, Cryptococcal meningitis, Toxoplasmosis, Cryptosporidiosis, etc

Cancers:
Kaposi’s sarcoma, Lymphoma, etc

Chronic Conditions:
Wasting syndrome, neurological demise and dementia, kidney disease, etc

Diagnosis

Diagnosis can be made after checking for antibodies in the body against HIV by blood or saliva tests. A quicker way to diagnose AIDS is to test for antigen (a protein) produced by HIV immediately after infection. The tests used for this purpose are called ELISA and Western blot analysis. Following tests are conducted to assess status of the disease:

  • CD4 T cell count
  • Viral Load
  • Drug resistance

Treatment

The best way to prevent HIV infection is to ensure safe sexual practices, usage of sterilized needles, screened blood transfusions and encouraging circumcision in men. Pregnant women with HIV need to undergo treatment and strict medical supervision to prevent transmission to the baby. There is no cure available for HIV/AIDS but following medications are currently used to control the virus:

  • Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)
  • Nucleoside or Nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)
  • Protease Inhibitors
  • Entry or Fusion inhibitors
  • Integrase inhibitors
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