HIV is a viral infection that spreads through blood and bodily fluid contact. Not only can it be spread sexually, but also from mother to her child during pregnancy, breast feeding or child birth, through contact with infected blood or by sharing needles. The HIV virus destroys a type of white blood cells, known as CD4 cells. It is these cells that play an essential role in how the body fights off disease. As a result, the immune system weakens as more of the CD4 cells die off. It can take many years before an HIV infection progresses into AIDS. When the CD4 count falls below the number 200 or when an AIDS-defining complication occurs, this is when it develops into AIDS.
There are many potential complications that lead from HIV and AIDS. This is because HIV weakens the immune system so badly that the body is automatically susceptible to a wide variety of infections and even some types of cancers. Some of the most common infections include: candidiasis, salmonellosis, cryptococcal meningitis, kaposis sarcoma, lymphomas, wasting syndrome, kidney disease and neurological complications. Some examples of AIDS-defining complications, which are all infections that individuals with AIDS are prone to, include toxoplasmosis, cryptosporidiosis, tuberculosis, pneumocystis pneumonia and cytomegalovirus. Because these complications are so severe, working with a medical professional is absolutely essential when HIV or AIDS is present.
Each stage of infection will produce different symptoms. The primary infection typically presents with flu-like symptoms, typically within 30 to 60 days of infection. These symptoms, which can last for weeks, include: diarrhea, night sweats, joint pain, swollen lymph glands, mouth ulcers, genital ulcers, sore throat, headache, muscle soreness and fever.
Progression into AIDS will produce another set of symptoms including skin rashes, skin bumps, weight loss, blurred or distorted vision, headaches, persistent and unexplained fatigue, persistent white spots on the tongue, cough, shortness of breath, chronic diarrhea, soaking night sweats and serious chills or a fever above 100 F that lasts for several weeks.
HIV is diagnosed most commonly by testing the saliva or the blood to find HIV virus antibodies. Another testing option tests for the HIV antigen, which is a protein that the virus begins to produce immediately after the patient has the HIV infection. The next step is to run tests so the physician can tailor a treatment to the patient, typically involving CD4 counts, viral load counts and drug resistance checks. Testing will also help to discover complications such as hepatitis and tuberculosis.
There is no known cure for HIV/AIDS though there are a number of treatment options that can improve a patients prognosis and their ability to fight illness and infection. These include non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors or NNRTIs, nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors or NRTIs, protease inhibitors or PIs, entry or fusion inhibitors and integrase inhibitors. Treatment typically begins when the CD4 count for the patient is below 500, indicating that white blood cell counts are low and the body will not be able to fight against infections.