HIV is a virus that causes immune system damage. Untreated HIV affects and kills CD4 cells, a type of immune cell known as a T cell.
As HIV kills more CD4 cells, the body becomes more susceptible to various conditions and cancers.
HIV is spread through bodily fluids such as:
Blood, sperm, vaginal and rectal fluids, and breast milk
The virus is not spread through the air, water, or casual contact.
HIV is a lifelong condition because it inserts itself into the DNA of cells, and there is currently no drug that eliminates HIV from the body, though many scientists are working to find one.
It is possible to manage HIV and live with it for many years with medical care, including antiretroviral therapy.
Without treatment, a person infected with HIV is at risk of developing Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, also known as AIDS.
At that point, the immune system is too weak to fight off other diseases, infections, and conditions.
Untreated, a person with end-stage AIDS has a life expectancy of about three years. HIV can be well-managed with antiretroviral therapy, and life expectancy can be comparable to someone who has not contracted HIV.
It is estimated that 1.2 million Americans are infected with HIV. One in every seven people is unaware that they have the virus.
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HIV can cause changes all over the body.
Learn about the effects of HIV on the body’s various systems.
What exactly is AIDS?
AIDS is a disease that can develop in HIV-positive people. It is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. However, just because a person has HIV does not guarantee that AIDS will develop.
HIV destroys CD4 cells. CD4 counts in healthy adults range from 500 to 1,600 per cubic millimetre. A person with HIV with a CD4 count of fewer than 200 cells per cubic millimetre is diagnosed with AIDS.
A person can also be diagnosed with AIDS if they have HIV and develop an opportunistic infection or cancer that is uncommon in HIV-negative people.
An opportunistic infection, such as Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia, occurs only in severely immunocompromised people, such as those with advanced HIV infection (AIDS).
If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS within a decade. AIDS currently has no cure, and the average life expectancy after diagnosis is about three years without treatment. Reliable Source.
The time frame may be reduced if the person develops a severe opportunistic illness. Treatment with antiretroviral drugs, on the other hand, can prevent the development of AIDS.
If AIDS develops, the immune system has been severely weakened to the point where it can no longer successfully respond to most diseases and infections.
As a result, an AIDS patient is vulnerable to a wide range of illnesses, including:
Pneumonia tuberculosis oral thrush, a fungal condition in the mouth or throat cytomegalovirus (CMV), a type of herpes virus cryptococcal meningitis, a fungal condition in the brain toxoplasmosis, a parasitic brain condition cryptosporidiosis, a parasitic intestinal parasite cancer, including Kaposi sarcoma (KS) and lymphoma
The decreased life expectancy associated with untreated AIDS is not directly due to the disease. Rather, it results from diseases and complications caused by an AIDS-weakened immune system.
Learn more about the complications that can result from HIV and AIDS.
Early HIV symptoms
The acute infection stage is the first few weeks after contracting HIV.
During this time, the virus multiplies quickly. The person’s immune system responds by producing HIV antibodies, proteins that take anti-infection measures.
Some people have no symptoms at first during this stage. However, many people experience symptoms within the first month or so of contracting the virus, but they frequently are unaware that HIV is the cause of those symptoms.
This is because acute-stage symptoms can be very similar to those of the flu or other seasonal viruses, such as:
They can range from mild to severe.
They may appear and disappear, and their duration may range from a few days to several weeks.
Early HIV symptoms may include:
lymph nodes swollen
aches and pains in general
rash on the skin, sore throat headache
nausea stomach upset
Because these symptoms are similar to common illnesses such as the flu, the person experiencing them may believe they do not require medical attention.
Even if they do, their doctor may suspect the flu or mononucleosis and may not even consider HIV.
Whether or not a person has symptoms, their viral load is extremely high during this time. The amount of HIV found in the bloodstream is called the viral load.
A high viral load indicates that HIV can be easily transmitted to another person during this period.
As the person enters the chronic, or clinical latency, stage of HIV, the initial symptoms usually resolve within a few months. With treatment, this stage can last for many years, if not decades.
HIV symptoms can differ from one person to the next.
Learn more about HIV’s early symptoms.
What are the HIV symptoms?
HIV enters the clinical latency stage after about a month. This stage can last anywhere from a few years to several decades.
Some people have no symptoms during this time, while others have minor or nonspecific symptoms. A nonspecific symptom does not relate to a specific disease or condition.
Among these nonspecific symptoms are:
headaches, as well as other aches and pains
lymph nodes swollen
fevers that come and go
sweating at night
Weight loss as a result of diarrhoea
rashes on the skin
recurring yeast infections in the mouth or vagina
HIV is still transferable during this stage, even if there are no symptoms, and it can be transmitted to another person.
A person will not know they have HIV unless they are tested. If someone has these symptoms and suspects they have been exposed to HIV, they should be tested.
At this stage, HIV symptoms may come and go or progress rapidly. Treatment can significantly slow this progression.
Chronic HIV can last for decades with consistent use of this antiretroviral therapy and, if started early enough, will not progress to AIDS.
Discover how HIV symptoms can progress over time.
Is a rash a sign of HIV?
Many people living with HIV experience skin changes. The rash is frequently one of the first signs of HIV infection. An HIV rash typically appears as a series of small red lesions that are flat and raised.
HIV makes people more prone to skin problems because the virus destroys the immune system cells that fight infection. The following co-infections can cause rash:
Shingles herpes simplex
The rash’s cause determines:
how it appears
how long will it last
The treatment depends on the cause.
While HIV co-infections can cause rash, medication can also cause it. Some HIV medications and other medications can cause a rash.
This rash usually appears within a week or two of beginning a new medication. Sometimes the rash goes away on its own. If it does not, a medication change may be required.
The rash caused by an allergic reaction to medication can be fatal.
Other allergic reaction symptoms include:
Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) is a rare allergic reaction to HIV medication that causes difficulty breathing, swallowing, dizziness, and fever. Fever and swelling of the face and tongue are symptoms. A blistering rash spreads quickly, involving the skin and mucous membranes.
When 30% of the skin is affected, it is referred to as toxic epidermal necrolysis, a potentially fatal condition. If this occurs, immediate medical attention is required.
While rashes have been linked to HIV or HIV medications, it’s important to remember that rashes are common and can have a variety of causes.
Find out more about HIV rash.
Is there a difference between HIV symptoms in men?
HIV symptoms differ from person to person but are similar in men and women. These symptoms may come and go or worsen over time.
If a person has been exposed to HIV, they may have also been exposed to other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These are some examples:
Men and those with a penis may be more likely than women to notice STI symptoms such as genital sores. Men, on the other hand, do not seek medical attention as frequently as women.
Learn more about men’s HIV symptoms.
Is there a difference between HIV symptoms in men and women?
The majority of HIV symptoms are the same in men and women. However, the overall symptoms they experience may differ due to the risks men and women face if they have HIV.
STIs are more common in HIV-positive men and women. On the other hand, women and those with vaginas may be less likely than men to notice small spots or other changes in their genitals.
Furthermore, HIV-positive women are more likely to:
Recurrent vaginal yeast infections, other vaginal infections, such as bacterial vaginosis, and menstrual cycle change human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause genital warts and lead to cervical cancer.
While not related to HIV symptoms, another risk for HIV-positive women is that the virus can be passed on to their unborn children. Antiretroviral therapy, on the other hand, is considered safe during pregnancy.
Antiretroviral-treated women have a very low risk of transmitting HIV to their babies during pregnancy and delivery. Breastfeeding is also hampered in HIV-positive women. Breast milk can be used to transmit the virus to a baby.
Breastfeeding is not recommended for women with HIV in the United States or other settings where the formula is available and safe. The use of the formula is encouraged for these women.
Pasteurized banked human milk is an alternative to formula.
It’s critical for women who may have been exposed to HIV to know what symptoms to look for.
Learn more about the symptoms of HIV in women.
What are the signs and symptoms of AIDS?
AIDS is an acronym for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. The immune system is weakened in this condition due to untreated HIV for many years.
If HIV is detected early and treated with antiretroviral therapy, a person is unlikely to develop AIDS.
People with HIV may develop AIDS if their HIV is not diagnosed until it is too late or if they know they have HIV but do not take their antiretroviral therapy consistently.
They may also develop AIDS if they have an HIV strain that is resistant to (does not respond to) antiretroviral therapy.
People living with HIV may develop AIDS sooner if they do not receive proper and consistent treatment. By that point, the immune system has suffered significant damage and has difficulty responding to infection and disease.
With antiretroviral therapy, a person can live with a chronic HIV diagnosis for decades without developing AIDS.
AIDS symptoms can include:
chronic swollen lymph glands, particularly in the armpits, neck, and groin
sweating at night
splotches of dark colour under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
mouth and tongue sores, spots, or lesions, genitals, or anus bumps, lesions or rashes on the skin, recurrent or chronic diarrhoea, rapid weight loss
Concentration issues, memory loss, and confusion are examples of neurologic issues.
depression and anxiety
Antiretroviral therapy suppresses the virus and, in most cases, prevents the progression to AIDS. Other AIDS infections and complications can also be treated. That treatment must be tailored to the individual’s needs.