All about HIV

What is HIV?

HIV (or human immunodeficiency virus) is a lentivirus that destroys a type of white blood cell in the immune system called a T-helper cell, and replicates itself inside these cells. As this happens, the infected persons immune system gradually breaks down, result in them finding it harder and harder to fight off infection and diseases. HIV can be found in semen, blood, vaginal and anal fluids, and breast milk, and cannot be transmitted through sweat, saliva or urine.


Early effects of HIV

Signs and symptoms of HIV usually begin to appear in 2-6 weeks and last for 1-2 weeks in the form of flu-like symptoms due to the body and immune system producing antibodies in an attempt to fight off the infection. This is known as seroconversion and tends to consist of symptoms like:

  • fever
  • skin rash
  • sore throat
  • swollen glands
  • joint/ muscle pain

After the seroconversion period is over, a person may not experience any symptoms of HIV for a few years.


How HIV affects the immune system

As mentioned earlier, HIV infects cells by merging with the host T cells, entering the host cell and multiplying. If someone does not receive treatment for HIV, they could severely damage their immune system and result in it not being able to defend itself at all thus causing even the most minor infection to become life-threatening. They are also more likely to pass the virus onto others and even develop AIDS.


Confections associated with HIV

People who have HIV are more likely to develop coinfections – diseases that can both have an effect on HIV and be affected by HIV. Some of the most common coinfections to HIV include:

  • tuberculosis
  • hepatitis
  • pneumonia

Side effects of HIV

The most common side effects experienced by people with HIV include:

  • headache
  • tiredness
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • rash
  • high blood sugar levels
  • high cholesterol

Other possible side effects of HIV include:

  • anaemia
  • hepatitis
  • poor kidney function
  • glucose intolerance
  • inflamed pancreas

Treatment of HIV

HIV can be treated via antiretroviral treatment. This has proven to be a very effective form of medication and has significantly improved the life expectancy of many people with HIV. People who are receiving treatment usually take a combination of three different drugs at the same time – this is because the HIV can adapt quickly to combination therapy and become resistant to a single type of antiretroviral therapy.

However, a person taking these drugs may experience metabolic effects or conditions such as:

  • fat redistribution
  • insulin resistance
  • osteoporosis

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