The Truth about AIDS

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Here are the four most important things you need to know about HIV and AIDS:

  • AIDS and HIV are not the same thing.
  • HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus.
  • AIDS is Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
  • Having HIV does not mean you have AIDS.

As flu is the result of the influenza virus so AIDS is the result of the HIV virus. In both cases, the flu and AIDS are the resulting diseases. Although AIDS is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition, most people with it die of other diseases, such as tuberculosis or pneumonia. Simply put, the HIV virus attacks the body, destroying the body's immune system, and causes AIDS, and AIDS leaves the patient with few defences against other diseases to which they succumb.

If HIV is a virus, how do I catch it?

HIV is a sexually transmitted infection. As it infects the blood cells it can also be spread by contact with contaminated blood. If infected blood is present in any situation where contact with it allows the blood to enter your system the chances are high you will contract HIV. Scenarios include, but are not limited to, sex of any description, mouth-to-mouth contact (if there are open sores), from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding. The chances of anyone contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion nowadays is virtually impossible because there are extremely strict blood screening protocols in place.

How do I know I have HIV or AIDS?

There are three stages of HIV. The first, and most contagious stage, often goes unnoticed as it can resemble flu. Taken on their own, each of these symptoms does not mean you have HIV or AIDS. It is the combination of them which will alert your doctor to the possibility.

Primary infection (Acute HIV)

Within weeks to a month a person will develop flu-like symptoms which may last a few weeks.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and joint pain
  • Rash
  • Sore throat and painful mouth sores
  • Swollen lymph glands, mainly on the neck

Clinical latent infection (Chronic HIV)

Symptoms include:

  • Persistent swelling of lymph nodes.
  • Symptomatic HIV infection
  • Symptoms include:
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Diarrhoea
  • Weight loss
  • Oral yeast infection (thrush)
  • Shingles (herpes zoster)
  • Other infections, cancers, etc.

Progression to AIDS

Untreated, HIV becomes AIDS in about 7 to 10 years.

Symptoms include:

  • Soaking night sweats
  • Recurring fever
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Persistent white spots or unusual lesions on tongue or in mouth
  • Persistent, unexplained fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Skin rashes or bumps
  • Symptoms of other infections and cancers

If you have any concerns, please contact your doctor immediately.

Is HIV and AIDS really an epidemic, or is it now under control?

According to the most recent stats, more than 36.9 million people worldwide are living with HIV. Disturbingly, only 75% of those know their status, and frighteningly, 1.8 million children under 15 years' of age have the virus (2017 Global HIV Statistics: UNAIDS).

Without medication, it may take years before HIV weakens your immune system to the point where you have AIDS. The disease typically progresses to AIDS in about 7 to 10 years, if left untreated.

There is still no cure for HIV. That is the bad news.

Is there any good news?

Better medical treatments are available, and these if taken correctly, people with HIV are able to live longer and with a better quality of life. There are a variety of drugs, used in combination, which can control the virus. Each class of anti-HIV drugs blocks the virus in different ways. To avoid creating strains of HIV that are resistant to single drugs, researchers have found it best to combine at least three drugs from two classes. HIV treatment regimens may involve taking multiple pills at specific times every day for the rest of your life. There has been some indication that a good diet and regular exercise also plays a role in improving one's immune system.

HIV treatment should reduce your viral load (the amount of virus in your system) to the point where it is undetectable. It is important to note though that does not mean your HIV is gone. It simply means a test has not been developed yet which is sensitive enough to detect the dormant HIV. It is almost impossible to transmit it to others when your viral load is undetectable.

It is important that all adults, sexually active or not, be screened regularly for HIV, so that those who are infected can learn their status and make the proper, responsible decisions for their lives. It also enables them to be treated for HIV as soon as possible.

A long, healthy life with HIV can be achieved, and knowing your status and being on treatment will enable you to significantly decrease your chances of transmitting the virus to someone else.

For more information please contact:
Dr S Mashamaite (General Practitioner, Special Interest: HIV)
MBChB (Natal), MPH (Unisa), Dip HIV Man (CMSA)
Zamokuhle Private Hospital
Tel: +27 (0) 11 923 7751/2
Email: info@lenmed.co.za

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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