World AIDS Day: HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a much-dreaded contagious virus that could lead to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). While many people think that the terms HIV and AIDS are synonymous, they are not. HIV or human immunodeficiency virus has different stages of which AIDS is the last stage. It occurs when the body’s immune system is badly damaged and the person has to face overwhelming infections. There are many HIV patients who may prevent their disease from turning into AIDS by taking HIV medication every day.
World AIDS Day is celebrated every year on December 1 and brings together people from around the world to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. It has become one of the most widely recognized international health days and aims to raise awareness, commemorate those who have died, and celebrate victories such as increased access to treatment and prevention services.
Why HIV is so lethal
The deadly virus targets and weakens the immune system of the affected people putting them at risk of certain types of cancer and other deadly diseases that people with healthy immune systems can fight off. What makes HIV even more lethal is the fact that it can’t be cured.
HIV cannot be spread by touch, cough or handshake or sharing food and beverages with the HIV infected patient. According to Dr Bela Sharma, Additional Director, Internal Medicine, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, the disease can be spread by unprotected sexual contact with a person whose status is not known, infected needles, infected blood or from an infected mother to the child during birth.
Stages of HIV explained
There are various stages of HIV and a person may remain asymptomatic for years. The symptoms start showing only when the immune system is affected to a great extent like loss of weight, loss of appetite, chronic loose motions or unexplained fever. As the disease progresses, it could take its most dangerous form AIDS and lead to multisystem organ failure due to overwhelming infections.
The earliest stage develops typically within 2 to 4 weeks of getting infected. The person does not have any symptoms in this stage but is highly infectious to others.
The period between getting infected and developing a positive blood test is known as the “window period” and may last upto three months depending upon the test being performed. If you test too soon or before the window period, you may not get an accurate result.
Suggested treatment during this stage is ART (antiretroviral therapy). It is highly beneficial as it can prevent damage to organs and prolong life.
Stage 2: Asymptomatic
This may last for many years and as the name suggests, there are no symptoms. Some people can continue to lead a normal lifestyle for ten years and even beyond, with regular medications and check-ups. Without conducting a test, a number of patients may not even be aware, that they are infected.
Stage 3: Symptomatic
Once the immune system is compromised to a large extent, body becomes prey to every minor infection that comes its way. Initially, the symptoms are non- specific including loss of weight, loss of appetite, chronic loose motions, unexplained fever, oral thrush etc. These are caused by opportunistic infections that the body is not able to fight off because of a weakened immune system. Some specific examples of opportunistic infections are tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis, and Kaposi’s sarcoma.
Stage 4: AIDS
There is no definite time limit between the second or the third or the third and the fourth stage. Not every person who gets infected with HIV ends up with AIDS. With proper medication and care, this number is now greatly reduced. But those that do land with AIDS, have multisystem organ failure due to overwhelming infections. There are a number of individuals living with HIV who have not developed AIDS.