Human immune deficiency virus commonly known as HIV belongs to genus Lentivirus of the family Retroviridae.(3) It causes an infection that over time progresses to AIDS (Acquired Immno-Deficiency Syndrome) when the immune system is weakened causing opportunistic infections and certain cancers to thrive. Without treatment, a person with HIV infection can stay alive up to 9 to 11 years.
HIV attacks the CD4 cells also known as T cells of the immune system making it weak to fight off against infections or diseases. HIV can’t be cured, even with treatment. Once you have it, it’s for lifetime. Over time when the count of CD4 cells decrease in body, it means HIV is progressing towards AIDS. Confirmed diagnosis of AIDS is done when the blood count of CD4 cells drops below 200 cells per cubic millimeter.
HIV is transmitted through certain body fluids like blood, semen, pre seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk from an infected HIV person. These fluids should come in contact with the mucous membrane (present in rectum, vagina, penis and mouth) or be directly injected into the blood for transmission to occur. Sharing needles or syringes with an HIV infected person can cause HIV transmission to occur in a non infected person.(1)
Other ways a person can be infected by HIV include:
- From an HIV-infected mother to a baby – the chances of this infection has decreased many folds now a days as mothers are screened pre pregnancy and initiating treatment before hand decreases the chances of baby getting HIV
- Struck by a needle of an HIV-infected person – people in healthcare industry are more at risk for this type of infection
- Receiving blood transfusions, organs or blood products from an HIV infected person – this way of infection is very rare due to the strict rule of checking the blood before hand for any viruses.
For general knowledge – HIV is not transmitted through shaking hands, hugging, sharing toilets or utensils or social kissing with HIV positive person. Nor does it get transmitted through mosquitoes or blood sucking insects or air.
HIV progresses through 3 stages in the human body. Symptoms for each stage differ from person to person. Sometimes the infected individual may not show any symptom at all. Below mentioned are the Human Immuno Deficiency Virus Symptoms as per stage of progression.
Stage 1 or the Acute HIV infection Stage or Primary Infection
When a person is infected with HIV, he/she has flu like symptoms within 2-4 weeks of infection. Mostly 40-90% of people will show these symptoms which may last from few days to several weeks, whereas some will not show any symptom at all. HIV will not show up on HIV test during this stage but the number of viruses in the body of the individual is high and can be spread to others easily. The acute or primary infections include cases in which infection is just recent or up to 6 months old. Symptoms include:
- Headaches or muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Painful mouth sores
- Swollen Lymph Glands
These symptoms will be so mild that they may go unnoticed. But if you think you have been infected with HIV, its best to get tested. Some labs test acute HIV infection by looking for HIV RNA of p24 antigen. It’s always good to know at an early stage and start the treatment immediately to benefit yourself as well as to decrease the risk of infecting others.
Stage 2 or Chronic HIV Infection or Clinical Latency Stage
At this stage, person still has HIV but it reproduces slowly in body. The infected individual may have no symptom or very mild ones. This stage can last as long as 10 years but in some cases it may progress faster. Individuals taking treatment (the Anti Retroviral Therapy) have the virus in suppressed condition and are less likely to infect another individual than the ones not on treatment. With treatment taken the right way every day, a person can live the same length as a normal individual without HIV because the virus levels are kept in check and the immune system does not deteriorate further. However individuals not on treatment will progress to the next much faster. Some of the symptoms as the body’s immune system keeps fighting the infection include (1) (4):
- Weight Loss
- Oral Yeast infection (Thrush)
Stage 3 or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) or Late Stage
An infected person not on ART treatment progress to the last stage of HIV infection called AIDS. By this time the immune system is damaged. Opportunistic infections develop which will not usually trouble a healthy individual. Suffering from an opportunistic infection also becomes a diagnosis of AIDS irrespective of the CD4 cells count. The symptoms of this stage include:
- Extreme and unexplained tiredness
- Recurring Fever
- Profuse Night Sweats
- Rapid Weight loss
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
- Sores of mouth, genitals or anus
- Prolonged swelling of lymph nodes in armpits, groin or neck
- Red or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside mouth nose and eyelids
- Memory loss
- Skin rashes or bumps
These symptoms are the result of the opportunistic infections that have plagued the body. Some of them include Candidiasis, Cryptosporidiosis, Cryptoccocal meningitis, Cytomegalovirus, Herpes Simplex virus, Pneumocystis pneumonia, Salmonella septicemia, Toxoplasmosis, Tuberculosis, Mycobacterium avium Complex (MAC). Certain opportunistic cancers which affect an infected person include invasive cervical cancer, Kaposi Sarcoma and Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. (2)
Progression through these stages depends on several factors including the health of individual before infection, their genetic makeup and quantity of virus they were exposed to including how soon they started of the treatment (ART). There is no cure for HIV, but the virus can be suppressed via treatment and a healthy lifestyle.
- About HIV and AIDS (n.d.). In gov. Retrieved from https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/what-are-hiv-and-aids
- Morris, Susan York (2018). Opportunistic infection in HIV. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/hiv-aids/opportunistic-infections
- HIV (n.d.). In org. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HIV
- HIV/AIDS (n.d.). In org. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hiv-aids/symptoms-causes/syc-20373524