Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection

Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection

K Panmei

Microbiologist, CIHSR

Basics on human immunodeficiency virus:

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV (Avery Dangerous thief) is spread through certain body liquids like blood, semen etc that attacks the body’s immune system (Police station), especially the CD4 cells, also called T cells. These special cells help the immune system fight off infections. (More like Police that suppresses the activity of thieves). Over time, HIV (the dangerous thieves) can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease (invasion by other thieves). When left untreated, HIV reduces the number of CD4 cells (T cells) in the body. This damage to the immune system makes it harder and harder for the body to fight off infections and some other diseases. Even the simple micro-organisms like bacteria, fungi etc which normally would not cause infection in a healthy individual stake advantage of a very weak immune system causing infections or cancers. This signals that the person has AIDS (Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome). Unlike some other viruses, the human body can’t get rid of HIV completely, even with treatment. So once you get HIV, you have it for life. No effective cure currently exists, but with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. The medicine used to treat HIV is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. If taken the right way, every day, this medicine can dramatically prolong the lives of many people infected with HIV, keep them healthy, and greatly lower their chance of infecting others. Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Today, someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can live nearly as long as someone who does not have HIV.


Where did HIV come from?

Scientists identified a type of chimpanzee in Central Africa as the source of HIV infection in humans. They believe that the chimpanzee version of the immunodeficiency virus (called simian immunodeficiency virus, or SIV) most likely was transmitted to humans and mutated into HIV when humans hunted these chimpanzees for meat and came into contact with their infected blood. Studies show that HIV may have jumped (mutated) from apes to humans as far back as the late 1800s. Over decades, the virus slowly spread across Africa and later into other parts of the world. We know that the virus has existed in the United States since at least the mid to late 1970s.


How do I know if I have HIV?

The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. Knowing your status is important because it helps you make healthy decisions to prevent getting or transmitting HIV.Some people may experience a flu-like illness within 2 to 4 weeks after infection (Stage 1 HIV infection). But some people may not feel sick during this stage. Flu-like symptoms include fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, or mouth ulcers. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. During this time, HIV infection may not show up on an HIV test (Window period), but people who have it are highly infectious and can spread the infection to others.


If you have these symptoms, that doesn’t mean you have HIV. Each of these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses. But if you have these symptoms after a potential exposure to HIV, see a health care provider and tell them about your risk. The only way to know whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection. After you get tested, it’s important to find out the result of your test so you can talk to your health care provider about treatment options if you’re HIV-positive or learn ways to prevent getting HIV if you’re HIV-negative.


Some myths and truths of HIV infection:

1. Is Sexual abstinence the only 100 % effective HIV prevention option?

– YES. Abstinence is the only 100% effective way to prevent HIV as well as other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and pregnancy. An abstinent person is someone who’s never had sex or someone who’s had sex but has decided not to continue having sex for some period of time.

2. Can male circumcision prevent HIV?

– Circumcised men are less likely than uncircumcised men to get HIV from HIV-positive female partners, but circumcision doesn’t decrease their risk as much as other prevention options.

3. Can I take medicines to prevent HIV after exposure (eg: sexual exposure/ needle sticks injury)?

– Yes. Taking medicine (Post Exposure Prophylaxis-PEP) after being potentially exposed to HIV, can keep you from becoming infected. But PEP must be started within 72 hours after a possible exposure.

4. Can I get vaccinated to prevent HIV?

– No. There is currently no vaccine that will prevent HIV infection or treat those who have it.

5. How can I prevent getting HIV from drug use?

– Stopping injection and other drug use can lower your chances of getting or transmitting HIV a lot. If you keep injecting drugs, use only sterile needles and works. Never share needles or works.

6. Can I prevent HIV from passing to my baby?

– Yes. If you have HIV, the most important thing you can do is to take medicines to treat HIV infection (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) the right way, every day. Talk to your Doctor today.