AIDS is caused by a virus called human immunodeficiency virus, also known as HIV. When a person contracts HIV through unprotected sex with an infected partner or by sharing needles with an infected person, it weakens their ability to fight off infections. Although HIV is the virus that initially attacks the body’s immune system (the T cells in particular), it eventually destroys so many cells that the body is no longer able to protect itself. HIV eventually progresses to AIDS within a short span of only a few years. Fortunately, there are medications available today that can suppress the effect of HIV on the body and help to delay the onset of AIDS.
Symptoms of HIV
Many people who have HIV don’t know it. This is why it is so important that you are tested regularly, especially if you have unprotected sex or share needles. No two people will have the same symptoms if they contract HIV. This is because everyone’s body is different. Within the first month of being infected, some people will suffer symptoms as a result of their body reacting to the disease and their body is working hard to fight it off. The symptoms are often flu-like symptoms and include:
- Muscle aches
- Swollen glands
- Sore throat
- Upset stomach
- Body rash
When most people experience these symptoms, they just assume that they have the flu. The symptoms last usually for a week or two and then the person will start to feel better. This does not mean that the virus is gone. It can take years for the symptoms of AIDS to show up. During this time, the virus (HIV) is active and it is attacking all of the new cells created by the body.
Symptoms of AIDS
After 10 years or so, the HIV virus can cause AIDS. This occurs when the body is no longer able to fight off infections that are caused by fungi, bacteria, or viruses. There are certain symptoms that a person will experience that is a sign that their infection has gone from HIV to AIDS.
- Unexplained weight loss
- Frequent Diarrhea
- High Fever
- A persistent cough
- Night sweats
- Skin issues such as rashes and boils
- Lesions in the mouth
- Frequent infections
- Development of serious illnesses and diseases
- Development of pneumocystis pneumonia
Most people won’t experience all of the symptoms at once. These can also be signs of another disease or illness. Before a person assumes that they have AIDS, they should see a doctor to be tested.
Thanks to medical advances, the prognosis for someone living with HIV is very good. There are anti-retroviral drugs that can be taken that can greatly slow the process of the HIV virus. Most people can live a long, full life. Also, it is possible for women with HIV to have children without passing the disease on to them. This is not something that was possible 20 or 30 years ago. Back then, HIV/AIDS was considered a death sentence. When the virus develops into AIDS, the prognosis is worse. When the HIV virus causes AIDS, the person’s immune system is greatly weakened. This makes it impossible for the body to fight off illnesses and diseases that will eventually be fatal.
Your best defense against HIV/AIDS is to know how to keep from getting it. There are a few ways to ensure your health.
- Use a condom every time you have sex.
- If you are an IV drug user, don’t share needles.
- If you work in the medical field, follow proper protocol regarding needle disposal and working with infected patients.
- Get tested every year for the HIV/AIDS virus.
Today, it is possible to live with the HIV virus. If you develop the virus and you catch it early, the medications available can keep you from developing AIDS for decades. Prevention and early diagnosis are the keys to good health.