December 1st is World AIDS Day
The 2017 theme for World AIDS Day is “Increasing Impact through Transparency, Accountability, and Partnerships”
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that spreads through bodily fluids and attacks the body’s immune system, specifically your T cells. Over time the virus can destroy a significant amount of your immune system that it makes it difficult for your body to fight off infections and disease. If untreated, the number of T cells drops so low that your severely weakened immune system cannot fight off the more aggressive diseases, such as cancer and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome)
About HIV and Treatment?
HIV is the virus that can lead to AIDS if not treated. The HIV virus, unlike other viruses cannot be gotten rid of once contracted, so you have it for life. There are no effective cures currently but with proper medical care it can be controlled.
Antiretroviral therapy (ART) medicine is currently being used to treat HIV. If detected and treated earlier enough the medicine can dramatically prolong the lives of people infected with the virus. The medicine can keep them healthier longer thus reducing their chance of infecting others. Prior to the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, HIV infected people would progress to AIDS fairly quickly. Today, early treatment can mean living as long as someone without the disease! The key is early detection and treatment! (1)
How Do You Contract AIDS?
There are common misconceptions among the population how someone would contract HIV. Here are some facts about how you CAN and CANNOT contract the virus.
HIV CAN be transmitted:
- through sexual contact
- by sharing needles to inject drugs
- from mother to unborn child during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding
It CANNOT be spread:
- by air or water
- through saliva, sweat, tears and closed mouth kissing
- by insects or pets
- by sharing toilets, foods and drinks
What Are The Stages Of HIV?
There are three stages of infection with HIV: (1) acute HIV infection, (2) clinical latency, and (3) AIDS. While there are ART treatments available to slow the progression of HIV to AIDS it is not a 100% solution, especially if someone was not detected early in its inception. The ART is still the best way to help those with HIV stop the progression of the disease from becoming AIDS. (1)
Stage 1: Acute HIV Infection Stage
During this stage most people will develop severe flu-like symptoms, usually two to four weeks after being infected. The symptoms can include, sore throat, muscle and joint pain, headaches, swollen glands and a fever. The body’s response to the HIV infection is called ARS (acute retroviral syndrome). If someone suspects they may have been infected, whether they show all these symptoms or not, should seek medical testing and start treatment right away to have the greatest chance of halting the progression of the virus.
During this stage your body T cell levels will fall rapidly as the virus replicates and destroys these immune fighting good cells. Eventually your T cell levels will start to increase as it attempts to fight the virus in your system. However, the T cell levels never quite reach the effective levels of pre-HIV infection, but still continue to fight. It is at this time an ART treatment would be highly beneficial.
Also during this stage you are at a very high risk of transmitting HIV to your partners. For this purpose, it is important you take steps to reduce the risk of transmission by following the guidelines above or reviewing an extended set of guidelines at HIV.gov. (1)
Stage 2: Clinical Latency Stage
In this stage the HIV infection moves into a “latency” period, meaning the virus is continuing to advance producing little to no symptoms. (This stage is called “asymptomatic HIV infection” or “chronic HIV infection.”) During this stage the HIV virus continues to reproduce at low level. If someone were to start an ART treatment during this phase they could still live for decades without progression to AIDS.
Someone in this stage can still transmit HIV to others, but their risk of transmission is greatly reduced from stage one transmission rates.
For people not on an ART treatment this stage may last about 10 years (or less) while the T cells continue to decline and the virus levels continue to rise. During this time you may develop symptoms of HIV as the virus progresses towards full-blown AIDS. (1)
Stage 3: AIDS
At this stage your immune system is badly compromised and the HIV infection is rampant. When your T cell levels fall below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (200 cells/mm3) you are considered to have AIDS. In contrast a healthy person has T cell levels between 500 and 1,600 cells/mm3.
Symptoms of AIDS can vary from person to person. A general list of symptoms include: rapid weight loss, recurring fever or night sweats, unexplained tiredness, prolonged swelling in the armpits, groin or neck, diarrhea lasting more than a week, sore in the mouth, anus or genitals, pneumonia, red/brown/pink/purple blotches under the skin or inside the mouth, nose or eyelids, and memory loss, depression or other neurologic disorders. (2) These symptoms could also be signs of other diseases and should be evaluated by a medical professional.
Without treatment people with AIDS typically survive about three years. Once you have an associated critical illness brought on by a depleted immune system your life expectancy falls to about one year. An ART treatment can still provide an extension of life at this stage, but not as effective as when initially diagnosed with HIV. Again, the key to living a longer healthier life is early detection and treatment!
How quickly someone moves through these stages has many factors. The first being early detection and treatment. It will also matter how healthy you were prior to contracting HIV and how much of the virus you were exposed to and its genetic characteristics. It will be important to take your treatment in a timely manner and stay in regular contact with your doctor. Equally important is to maintain a healthy lifestyle, such as getting exercise, eating a healthy diet and eliminating smoking. (1)
Statistics – US
New HIV Diagnoses in the United States by Age, 2016 (3)
US AIDS Diagnosis 2000-2016 (4)
Statistics – Global
Global population living with AIDS (5)
- (1) HIV.gov – What are HIV and AIDS?
- (2) HIV.gov – Symptoms of HIV
- (3) CDC.gov – US Statistics at a Glance
- (4) CDC.gov – Interactive charts and maps
- (5) HIV.gov – Global Statistics