What You Should Know About Aids, but Probably Don’t

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, more popularly known as Aids is a life-threatening condition that is caused by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).  

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and interferes with the body’s ability to defend itself from other external pathogens. It destroys the CD4 immune cells that are responsible for regulating immune response and fighting off pathogens (viruses and bacteria).

 HIV is classified as a sexually transmitted infection because it is usually gotten from unprotected sex with an uncontrolled HIV infected person. Human immunodeficiency virus is transmitted through infected vaginal fluid, semen, or blood.

How does HIV infection generally spread?

  • By having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected person
  • Through contact with an infected blood
  • Through non-sterilized sharp objects
  • From a poorly controlled HIV in a mother to her baby through pregnancy, labor or breastfeeding

Being HIV positive does not mean the person has the full form of the virus known as AIDs. An HIV infected person will begin to show symptoms a few weeks after being infected. After the early signs manifest, HIV becomes asymptomatic until it progresses to AIDs (Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

The syndrome is usually defined as an accumulation of symptoms, that is why AIDs is usually termed as a syndrome because it is the accumulation and manifestations of symptoms that result from the effect of a decreased immune system. Whenever the immune system is low and compromised, it becomes exposed to the attack of different opportunistic infections and the formation of cancer cells that makes the individual feel unwell and could lead to death when it is not properly treated.

Early symptoms of human immunodeficiency virus 

Numerous HIV-positive people do not display any signs until the later stages of the disease. The virus can live in the body for up to 10 years or even more without producing any visible symptoms. 

Fever, excessive fatigue, rapid weight loss, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, vomiting and persistent coughing can be among the early symptoms of human immunodeficiency virus that a patients experience in the later stages when the disease has already advanced. Those symptoms are usually caused by opportunistic infections that the patients weakened immune system has been weak to fight.

During the initial two weeks to 30 days after infection, some individuals people may experience acute symptoms related to those of the flu. It is essential to remember that not every HIV infected person experiences these symptoms.

What opportunistic infections do you get with Aids?

Opportunistic infections common in aids patients include:  

  1. Candidiasis: also known as thrush, is the most common fungal infection in Aids patients. It is usually seen as a thick white coating on the tongue, vagina, or esophagus. It is one of the first infections noticed in a patient with Aids who have not started treatment.
  2. Mycobacterium tuberculosis: it is the most common bacteria infection in Aids patients and it is usually the common cause of death. Tuberculosis mostly affects the lungs, brain, bones and kidneys but it can affect any organ in the body.
  3. Pneumocystis pneumonia: is a fungal infection that is the most common cause of pneumonia in patients with Aids. 
  4. Cryptococcal meningitis: is the inflammation of the brain caused by a fungus found in soil.
  5. Cytomegalovirus: is a herpes infection that stays dormant for years in the body once infected. It is dormant as a result of the immune system suppressing it. In a condition such as Aids where the immune system is suppressed, cytomegalovirus can resurface and begin to destroy various organs of the body, some of which are: eyes, lungs, and digestive tract.
  6. Toxoplasmosis: is an infection caused by protozoan toxoplasma gondii and spread by cats primarily through their feces

Tumor/Cancer Common In Patients With Aids:

  1. Kaposi sarcoma: is the most common cancer in Aids patients. It is characterized by the formation of various sizes of masses in the skin (especially on the mouth, nose, back, and lower limb), lymph nodes, gums, and genitals.
  2. Burkitt’s lymphoma: is the cancer of the lymphatic system that manifests as swelling in the neck, armpit, and groin.
  3. Primary diffuse large B – cell lymphoma of the central nervous system: is a tumor inside the brain.
  4. Cervical cancer: Cancer of the cervix

Other Conditions That Are Very Common In Aids Patients:

  1. Cachexia (in the form of HIV wasting syndrome).
  2. Chronic diarrhea
  3. Unplanned massive weight loss
  4. Retinitis
  5. Encephalitis
  6. HIV- associated nephropathy
  7. Liver problems

Treatment of human immunodeficiency syndrome:

There is no cure or vaccine for AIDs. The goal of treatment is to reduce viral count and increase CD4 cells. Treatment comprises of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) and control of opportunistic infections/cancer accordingly.

Which describes highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART)?

HAART combination consists of 2 nucleoside analog reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) and 1 non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI). The 2019 combination used is:

  • Dolutegravir/lamivudine/tenofovir as first-line treatment.
  • Tenofovir/lamivudine/efavirenz is the second option.

Typical NRTIs are:

  1. Zidovudine (AZT)
  2. Tenofovir (TDF)
  3. Lamivudine (3TC)
  4. Emtricitabine (FTC)

Typical NNRTI are:

  1. Efavirenz
  2. Nevirapine
  3. Delavirdine
  4. Etravirine
  5. Rilpivirine
  6. Doravirine

Final word

Although Aids is a serious disease, it is essential to remember that it is quite treatable with the support of antiretroviral therapy (ART), which is powerful in fighting this disease effectively. Numerous people who are living with Aids live long, active, and productive lives.