By Aiman Nissar Mahajan

Of all the viruses that are harmful to humans, the one named Human Immunodeficiency Virus aka HIV has proven to be the most fatal in the human history of disease-causing microorganisms. These microorganisms are different from other organisms like bacteria and fungi. Also called “organisms at the edge of life”, they do not possess a cellular structure and hence cannot carry out their life functions independently. They are hence also called non-living or dead when not in a host cell. They live after infecting a host cell and use their cellular machinery to thrive.

How is HIV different from other viruses?

HIV destroys the immune cells after infecting a person, causing a disease known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Once the infected person’s immune system is torn down, it becomes easier for him to get sick. He becomes prone to all kinds of infections that a healthy individual’s immune system can fight off like Tuberculosis, Pneumonia, viruses causing cancers, and diseases caused by bacteria, fungi and parasites. That is why HIV doesn’t cause just one disease named AIDS but leads to multiple diseases.

Signs and Symptoms?

There are three stages of HIV infection.

Symptoms observed in Stage 1 (Acute infection Stage) – Influenza/common-flu-like symptoms are observed in the first 2-3 weeks which include: fever, weight loss, chills, general aches and pains, skin rash, mouth sores, sores in the oesophagus, sore throat, headache, nausea and upset stomach. These symptoms disappear after the first month and it’s easy for the infected person and their doctors to ignore AIDS in their diagnosis since the symptoms resemble the common flu.

Symptoms observed in Stage 2: After the first month or so of acute infection, an asymptomatic phase can be seen where no specific symptoms are observed. This can last from 2-20 years.

Symptoms observed in Stage 3 (AIDS) – This phase is markedly observed with the person being infected with several other infections, including symptoms of fever, swollen nodes and night sweats. Without proper treatment, the infected person becomes severely unhealthy and the disease progresses, ultimately leading to death.

How does AIDS spread from one person to another?

AIDS can be transmitted through the exposure of blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids and breastmilk in the following ways:

1. Sexual contact without protection.

2. Sharing infected needles/syringes.

3. From infected mother to child during pregnancy, labour and delivery.

4. From an infected mother breastfeeding her child.

What can we do to prevent AIDS from spreading?

⦁ Getting tested for HIV if a person is at risk.

⦁ Using protection while engaging in sexual activities.

⦁ Getting tested for other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

⦁ Avoiding sharing needles.

⦁ Seeking treatment as soon as HIV is detected.

There are several treatment regimens available for HIV which make people with this disease live healthy and longer lives by slowing down the progression of the disease. However, no cure for the disease has been found yet.

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