HIV Learning Center


    Definition

    HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV attacks the immune system by destroying CD4 positive (CD4+) T cells, a type of white blood cell that is vital to fighting off infection. The destruction of these cells leaves people infected with HIV vulnerable to other infections, diseases and other complications.

    According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that more than 1 million adults and adolescents were living with HIV infection in the United States at the end of 2006, the most recent year for which national prevalence estimates are available. One HIV infection is estimated to occur every 9 1/2 minutes in the United States or roughly 56,000 annually.

    Blacks/African Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV. Blacks currently account for about half (49%) of the people who get HIV and AIDS, although they comprise 14% of the US population. African American and Hispanics/Latinos communities continue to experience higher rates of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) compared to other racial/ethnic communities in the US.

    The presence of certain STIs can significantly increase the chance of contracting HIV.

    The CDC states for every HIV infection that is prevented, an estimated $355,000 is saved in the cost of providing lifetime HIV treatment – significant cost-savings for the U.S. federal government that spent an estimated $12.3 billion on HIV care and treatment in 2009, and for the U.S. health care system as a whole.


    Alternative Names

    Human immunodeficiency virus

    Causes

    To become infected with HIV, infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions must enter your body. You can’t become infected through ordinary contact — hugging, kissing, dancing or shaking hands — with someone who has HIV or AIDS. HIV can’t be transmitted through the air, water or via insect bites.

    You can become infected with HIV in several ways, including:

        •    During sexual intercourse
        •    Blood transfusions
        •    Sharing needles
        •    From mother to child


    Symptoms

    Early Symptoms

    In the first stages of HIV infection, most people will have very few, if any, symptoms. Within a month or two after infection, they may experience a flu-like illness, including:

        •    Fever
        •    Headache
        •    Tiredness
        •    Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and groin area

    These symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for another viral infection, such as flu. However, during this period people are highly infectious because HIV is present in large quantities in genital fluids and blood. Some people infected with HIV may have more severe symptoms at first or symptoms that last a long time, while others may have no symptoms for 12 years or more.

    Later Symptoms

    During the late stages of HIV infection, the virus severely weakens the immune system, and people infected with the virus may have the following symptoms:

        •    Rapid weight loss
        •    Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
        •    Extreme and unexplained tiredness
        •    Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
        •    Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
        •    Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
        •    Pneumonia
        •    Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
        •    Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders.

    Each of these symptoms can be related to other illnesses. The only way to find out if you are infected with HIV is to get tested.


    Exams and Tests

    Regular HIV screenings allow healthcare providers to identify people who are not aware that they are infected with HIV, so that they can be counseled on the need to avoid high-risk behaviors, instructed on safe-sex practices, and given information about starting antiretroviral therapy. HIV testing can also be performed anonymously if a person is concerned about confidentiality.

    Healthcare providers can test a sample of blood to see if it contains human antibodies (disease-fighting proteins) specific to HIV. The two key types of HIV antibody tests are the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and the Western blot.

    However, these antibody tests may not detect HIV antibodies in someone who has been recently infected with HIV (within 1 to 3 months of infection). In these situations, healthcare providers can test the blood for the presence of HIV genetic material. This test is extremely critical for identifying recently infected people who are at risk for unknowingly infecting others with HIV.


    Treatments

    Today, there are 31 antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat HIV infection. These treatments do not cure people of HIV or AIDS. Rather, they suppress the virus, even to undetectable levels, but they do not completely eliminate HIV from the body. By suppressing the amount of virus in the body, people infected with HIV can now lead longer and healthier lives. However, they can still transmit the virus and must continuously take antiretroviral drugs in order to maintain their health quality.


    Possible Complications

    HIV infection weakens your immune system, making you highly susceptible to all sorts of infections and certain types of cancers.
    Infections common to HIV/AIDS:

        •    Tuberculosis (TB)
        •    Salmonellosis
        •    Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
        •    Candidiasis
        •    Cryptococcal meningitis
        •    Toxoplasmosis
        •    Cryptosporidiosis
        •   
    Cancers common to HIV/AIDS
        •    Kaposi’s sarcoma.
        •    Lymphomas
        •   
    Other complications
        •    Wasting syndrome
        •    Neurological complications

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your health care provider if you have had a possible or actual exposure to AIDS or HIV infection.

    Preventions

    Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent HIV infection nor is there a cure for HIV/AIDS. To reduce your risk of becoming infected with HIV or transmitting the virus to others:
     
        •    Get tested regularly for HIV
        •    Practice abstinence
        •    Remain faithful to your spouse or partner
        •    Consistently use male latex or female polyurethane condoms
        •    Do not share needles


    Natural Remedies

    (BlackDoctor.org) — Give your body a boost by focusing on fitness and choosing the right combination of foods and nutritional supplements. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful:

    What You Need To Know:

    • Mix in a multi
      Take a daily multivitamin supplement to prevent common deficiencies associated with the disease
    • Try selenium supplements
      Taking 400 mcg a day of selenium under a doctor’s supervision can result in fewer infections, a healthier appetite, and other benefits
    • Get to know NAC
      Take 800 mg a day of the supplement N-acetyl cysteine to slow the decline in immune function
    • Discover boxwood
      Support CD4 cell counts by taking 990 mg a day of this herbal extract containing leaves and stems
    • Go gluten-free
      Forego foods made with wheat, rye, barley, or oats to reduce symptoms of diarrhea
    • Work in a workout
      Slow HIV progression by exercising three to four times each week

    These recommendations are not comprehensive and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or pharmacist.

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