What is HIV
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), a health condition in which a person is affected by a series of diseases because of poor immunity. HIV by itself is not an illness and does not instantly lead to AIDS. An HIV infected person can lead a healthy life for several years before s/he develops AIDS.
What is AIDS
As the name, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome indicates, AIDS is a health condition that results from the deficiency in the body's immunity following HIV infection. HIV attacks the human body by breaking down its immune system that is meant to fight diseases. Over a period of time, the immune system weakens and the body loses its natural ability to fight diseases. At this stage, various diseases affect the infected person.
A person can get infected with HIV through the following routes:
- Unprotected sex: If a person engages in sexual intercourse with an infected person without using a condom, s/he can get infected. The sexual act can be both vaginal and anal.
- Sharing of needles: If a person shares the needle or syringe used by/on an infected person, either for injecting drugs or drawing blood or for any other purpose involving piercing, s/he can get infected. Instruments used for piercing and tattooing also carry a small risk of infection.
- Unsafe blood: A person can get the infection, if he/she is given transfusion of infected blood.
- Improperly sterilized hospital tools: If surgical devices like syringes and scalpels, or even certain instruments, used on an infected person, are used on another person without proper sterilization, they can transmit the infection.
- Parent to Child: An HIV positive mother can transmit the virus to child during pregnancy or birth.
What are the early symptoms of HIV Infection?
Many people do not develop any symptoms when they first become infected with HIV. Some people, however, get a flu-like illness within three to six weeks after exposure to the virus. This illness, called Acute HIV Syndrome, may include fever, headache, tiredness, nausea, diarrhea and enlarged lymph nodes (organs of the immune system that can be felt in the neck, armpits and groin). These symptoms usually disappear within a week to a month and are often mistaken for another viral infection.
During this period, the quantity of the virus in the body will be high and it spreads to different parts, particularly the lymphoid tissue. At this stage, the infected person is more likely to pass on the infection to others. The viral quantity then drops as the body's immune system launches an orchestrated fight.
More persistent or severe symptoms may not surface for several years, even a decade or more, after HIV first enters the body in adults, or within two years in children born with the virus. This period of "asymptomatic" infection varies from individual to individual. Some people may begin to have symptoms as soon as a few months, while others may be symptom-free for more than 10 years. However, during the "asymptomatic" period, the virus will be actively multiplying, infecting, and killing cells of the immune system.