AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) caused by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). AIDS disease is a potentially a life-threatening condition which attacks the body’s immune system and destroys its ability to fight the disease-causing organisms.
The HIV virus attacks the CD4 cells which are a part of the immune system of the body and assist in fighting infections. If left untreated, HIV disease destroys the CD4 cells in large numbers and affects the health status drastically. The infected body with time is unable to fight off other infections and diseases. Opportunistic infections or cancers develop due to the weak immune system which is a signal that the person is infected with AIDS disease.
Before going any further it is of utmost importance to understand AIDS causes. Various possible causes of the spread of the HIV virus are listed below.
AIDS is a life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus [HIV]. It spreads through infected body fluids such as semen, vaginal fluid, blood, and breast milk. HIV disease spreads mainly through the contact of these fluids with the mucous membrane or damaged tissue or directly through the blood. So, one can say that AIDS is transmitted through the following ways:
- The most common mode of transmission of AIDS is unprotected sex. It spreads through semen or vaginal fluids exchanged during the intercourse. HIV mainly spreads by risky sexual behaviour and having sex without the use of condoms. Having multiple partners increases the risk of HIV transmission several folds. Having STDs can also increase the risk of becoming infected with HIV or spreading it to others.
- From mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. It is most likely that an infected mother will transfer the infection to the new-born.
- Sharing needles or syringes with the infected person also transmits HIV. This is mostly seen in drug addicts. The HIV virus can survive on needles and equipment up to 42 hours roughly.
- Health care workers can also get HIV from contaminated needles or other objects.
- Blood transfusions or organ transplants which are done without proper screening may have an infection and lead to the recipient to become infected.
- Contact between broken skin, wounds or mucous membrane transmits HIV.
- Kissing can also spread HIV if the infected partner has sores or bleeding gums.
The HIV infection progresses through several stages before developing into AIDS disease. Having HIV does not necessarily mean that the person will acquire AIDS. The various stages for the progression of the disease and AIDS symptoms are listed below:
First Stage-Acute HIV infection
Most people don’t realize that they have HIV infection in the initial stage. The early symptoms resemble other viral illnesses which makes it really difficult to diagnose. This occurs within 2 to 6 weeks of initial infection and results from the response of the immune system to the HIV infection. The AIDS symptoms include:
- Ache in muscles
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Skin rash
- Sore throat
- Ulcers in mouth and genitals
- Nausea and vomiting
Second Stage -Chronic infection stage
After the HIV symptom initial stage the disease does not cause any clinical symptoms for months or even years. The virus multiplies in the body silently and the person is infectious to other healthy people even if he feels fine. This stage is also called the asymptomatic or the latent stage. This means that the person does not show any clinical symptoms but the virus is actively replicating in the body.
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Third Stage – AIDS
It is the final stage of HIV infection. It is the most severe stage and in most cases leads to the death of the patient. Cancer and other opportunistic infections also appear during this stage. Without treatment, the patient may survive up to 3 years. The immune system is severely damaged so the body cannot fight infections. These cause a number of AIDS symptoms such as:
- Coughing and difficulty in breathing
- Fever that lasts for more than ten days
- Extreme fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
- Severe and persistent diarrhea
- Rapid weight loss
- Vision loss
- Pain in swallowing
- Confusion and forgetfulness
- Swelling of lymph nodes
- Sores in mouth and genitals
- Profuse night sweats
- Purplish spots on the skin
- Fungal infections
- Bruises and bleeding
- Regular infections
- Depression and other neurologic disorders
Secondary infections or other opportunistic infections occur during this period due to the poor immune system. These opportunistic infections are the infections that affect people with a weak immune system more frequently. These common infections include:
- Candidiasis- A fungal infection caused by Candida. It affects the mouth and other mucous membranes. In severe cases, it affects the trachea, lungs and the esophagus.
- Invasive cervical cancer- Cervical cancer is caused in female cervix area.
- Coccidioidomycosis- It is a fungal infection and can lead to pneumonia.
- Cryptococcosis- It is also a fungal infection which affects the lungs and the brain.
- Cytomegalovirus diseases- It is a viral infection which causes pneumonia and gastroenteritis. It also affects the brain and the retina which can lead to blindness.
- HIV-related encephalopathy- Its exact cause is not known but it results from chronic HIV infection.
- Herpes simplex-HSV is a common infection. The suppression of the immune system may reactivate the latent virus or the infection may be new. It causes cold sores in and around the mouth, genitals or anus.
- Kaposi’s sarcoma- It is cancer and is caused by a virus
- Histoplasmosis- It is a fungal infection of the lungs
- Pneumocystis carinii- It is a lung infection of fungal nature
- Recurrent pneumonia
- Toxoplasmosis- It is a parasitic infection
- Salmonella septicemia- It is a recurrent bacterial infection which causes vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.
- Wasting syndrome of HIV- It is the loss of muscle mass and weight loss.