Factsheet on HIV
HIV is short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and is also better known by what it causes in the long term; AIDS. It is a condition that causes the immune system within a human being to stop working, which in turn means any infection, disease or cancer can become potentially life threatening. It was a disease stereotypically linked with homosexuals, but is now growing faster in heterosexual groups, particularly in developing countries.
Like other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), HIV is usually passed on through sexual intercourse. This is the same of herpes which you can read more about on the herpes factsheet. In addition to this, it can be passed on through blood transfusions if blood has not been tested properly and through sharing drug needles with infected users.
The majority of people infected with HIV will show no symptoms. HIV symptoms that may develop include flu-like illnesses including fevers, headaches, tiredness and swollen lymph glands. These symptoms on their own are not enough to make most people think that they might have HIV. These symptoms tend to disappear within a few weeks as the HIV becomes almost dormant for up to ten years while it multiplies within the body and weakens the immune system. Towards the end of this process, HIV sufferers may develop weight loss, a lack of energy, fevers and sweats, yeast infections, skin rashes and sores. It’s important to maintain healthy relationships by getting tested if you partake in any at-risk activities.
A HIV test is the only way to diagnose if someone is suffering from a HIV infection or not. Small samples of blood are taken and analysed for the virus. It is also possible to test urine and oral fluids, though blood tests are more accurate. All such tests are done in clinics or by using home kits, which are sent to clinics for analysis. Results are kept secret and counselling is provided. The fact that there are rarely any symptoms stresses the importance sexually transmitted disease testing has on society.
When first diagnosed, HIV was effectively a death sentence. Modern medicine has found ways to delay the effects of HIV. HIV treatment takes the form of a regimen of different types of drugs, which can be called HAART. These need to be taken at the right time, every single day for the rest of a person’s life and can result in side effects such as nausea and diarrhoea. Specific treatments are also given for infections that develop as a result of having HIV or AIDS.
If left untreated HIV evolves into AIDS when the number of CD4+ cells in the blood is reduced to less than 200 per microlitre. As AIDS develops sufferers will become more susceptible to infections that do not normally affect healthy individuals. If left untreated AIDS will lead to death. The HIV prognosis for those who are taking their medicine depends on how the retrovirus reacts to the drug regimen. If the drugs fail to stymie the HIV then it will develop into AIDS faster. Scientists are continuously seeking a cure for AIDS and several developments, such as a bone marrow transplant in Germany, have given cause for optimism.