As of 2022, the number of PLHIV (People Living with HIV) in India was estimated to be 24 lakhs.
It is believed that HIV entered humans from Chimpanzees in the early 20th Century. Most likely, the transmission occurred while humans were butchering chimpanzees for bush meat. It took decades for the virus to spread around the world. It has been known to exist in the USA since the 1970s. Now, the virus spread is considered a global pandemic with no efficient cure in sight.
What is HIV? What are the notable symptoms? How can you keep yourself safe from HIV? And, is the disease manageable? Read ahead to find out!
What is HIV?
HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is known to affect the human immune system. When left untreated, it kills the T cells which are a kind of immune cells. Over time, as more and more T cells start to get eliminated, an HIV infection can give rise to other infections and even cancer.
The virus is known to spread from bodily fluids like semen, vaginal & rectal fluids, blood, and even breast milk. HIV is not air-borne, or water-borne, and cannot be transmitted through casual contact.
There are essentially 3-4 stages of HIV. If HIV is left untreated, it can lead to AIDS.
The difference between HIV and AIDS
AIDS is the name given to the most advanced stage of an HIV infection. However, an HIV infection doesn’t necessarily lead to the development of AIDS. So HIV [Human Immunodeficiency Virus] goes on to become AIDS [Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome].
AIDS is the name given to the condition when the count of CD4 or T cells in an HIV- patient’s body falls below 200 per cubic millimetre of blood.
When HIV is left untreated for about a decade, it progresses into AIDS. The life expectancy of an AIDS patient, after diagnosis, is found to be merely 3 years. The time may reduce further if the patient develops other infections due to compromised immunity.
Symptoms of HIV/ AIDS
It is difficult to self-assess an HIV infection at an early stage because the early symptoms look very similar to flu or seasonal viral infection.
Early HIV symptoms include:
Swollen lymph nodes
This is the reason why many times, HIV infection is left undiagnosed and untreated. This leads to the development of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS. AIDS symptoms are much more drastic than those of HIV.
Some AIDS Symptoms include:
Rapid weight loss
Swelling of the Lymph Glands
Symptoms may also include Sores around the mouth, anus, or genitals. In some cases, red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches are also found on or under the skin. These blotches may also be inside the eyelids, mouth, or nose.
If I have AIDS, what other risks do I have?
We’ve already established that AIDS directly affects your immunity. This is why you run at a high risk of developing the following conditions:
CMV (herpes virus)
Cancers like Lymphoma & Kaposi Sarcoma
Fungal conditions like:
Oral Thrush (in the mouth or throat)
Cryptococcal Meningitis (in the brain)
Body Parasite-related diseases like:
Cryptosporidiosis (intestinal parasite)
Toxoplasmosis (brain parasite)
How can I protect myself from the infection?
We can take several steps to protect ourselves from the infection:
Stay away from risky sexual behavior: One of the main causes of HIV spread is risky sexual behavior. If you are having sex with someone you don’t know, it is essential to use condoms.
Try to limit the number of sexual partners you have sex with: The more number of sexual partners you have, the more likely it is that you may contract some form of an STD.
Avoid usage of drugs: Drugs affect a person’s health in many drastic ways. When administered through injections, they also put the user at risk of being infected by HIV, in case the needle is shared with an infected person.
Get yourself and your partner tested before having sex: Before having sex with a new partner, get yourself and your partner tested for HIV and other STDs.
Other possible reasons for spread of HIV that you must be cautious of are:
Vaginal & rectal fluids
Is a cure possible? Is the infection manageable?
Unfortunately, there is no solid cure for HIV infections as yet. But, the symptoms can be managed through HIV treatment. The treatment consists of several drugs since HIV is a complex virus that quickly adapts. It also develops drug resistance quickly.
The treatment works to stop the virus by replicating in the body and buying the body’s immune system time to repair itself. This also stops further damage from the virus.
HIV infection makes it difficult for patients to lead normal lives, but the goal isn’t impossible to achieve. It is important for HIV patients to stay in touch with a healthcare provider for their treatment, and take other measures to stay healthy. It is also the responsibility of an HIV-infected person to prevent the infection from spreading further by staying informed, using the right precautions, taking regular medication, and informing their sexual partners about their infection.
An HIV infection can complicate an individual’s life. It is important to diagnose the infection in time and start treatment to prevent the onset of AIDS. Early treatment can also prevent you from spreading the virus further.
Being a sexually active person comes with social responsibilities. One of those is to protect yourself from STDs and also prevent their spread. So, keep yourself educated, stay alert, and engage in responsible sexual behavior with proper protection. If, at any moment, you notice unusual symptoms in your body or suspect an infection, do visit your healthcare provider at the earliest.
The Author :
Dr. Sunil Khattri
Dr Sunil Khattri MBBS, MS(General Surgery), LLB, is a Medical doctor and is a practicing Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi.