Almost everyone knows about HIV and the deadly effects it has on the human body. Since its discovery in 1981 by scientists, organizations have sprung up to raise awareness about its effect and how to prevent transmission. From the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to events like World AIDS Day on December 1st, people around the world have donated hundreds of millions to seek a cure for this debilitating disease.
The way HIV works in harming the body is by attacking the immune system or T-cells. T-cells are a type of white blood cell that assists in dealing with fighting off infection. When HIV is present in the body, the virus kills off these cells, until none remain. When this occurs, a person is said to have developed AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
One common misconception is that AIDS directly kills the person infected. However, what tends to happen is once the person’s T cells have dropped to very low levels (SEE SYMPTOMS) the person is now exposed to “opportunistic-infections” or diseases that a normal healthy person could easily fight off.
One of the most common ways a person with AIDS dies is from pneumonia, something that is more often a problem for small children or the elderly. An example that made headlines in the mid 90s was when rapper Eazy-E was hospitalized with a case of pneumonia in February of 1995. Upon being tested, it was discovered that he had contracted HIV which by that point, had developed into AIDS. One month after being diagnosed he passed away on March 1995.
First, lets discuss ways in which HIV CANT get contracted. Some of the many misconceptions are that if someone gets bitten by mosquitoes and then bites them they can become infected, this is not true. The virus cannot be caught sitting on toilet seats or by sharing utensils. It also cannot be transferred by touching or kissing, as the virus needs to be in high concentrations such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk.
Ways in which you CAN contract HIV is by:
· contaminated blood transfusions and organ transplants
· sharing needles
· mother to fetus or through breast milk
· having unprotected sex
Generally speaking, the chance of an HIV infection is generally low for the majority of the Western population, compared to other more common STDs. There are however, certain groups of people who are more at risk than others. According to the CDC, Men who have sex with other men (MSM), African Americans, and IV drug users are the 3 most at risk groups. Below are some of their statistics for 2015:
· 17,670 African Americans were diagnosed with HIV in the United States (13,070 men and 4,524 women).
· More than half (58%, 10,315) of African Americans diagnosed with HIV were gay or bisexual men.
· Among African American gay and bisexual men diagnosed with HIV, 38% (3,888) were young men aged 13 to 24.
· 48% (8,702) of those diagnosed with AIDS in the United States were African Americans.
There are 3 main stages of an HIV infection: Acute infection, Clinical latency, and AIDS
Initially when you’ve contracted HIV, the body will react in one of two ways, as with most STDs. You will either show no symptoms or you’ll develop flu-like/mono symptoms 2-4 weeks after being infected. This generally occurs to 40%-90% of those infected, along with:
· tender lymph nodes
· mouth/genital sores
Aside from the sores, most of these symptoms do not always raise red flags as a possible HIV infection. This is why it’s important to get frequently tested if you’re sexually active and begin developing a combination of these symptoms.
Left untreated or unmanaged, the virus moves to the second stage called clinical latency or chronic HIV. This stage can last anywhere from 3-20 years, with 8 years being the average for most people. Similar to the latent stage in Syphilis, most people will show little to no symptoms, initially. Towards the end of this stage, people will begin to show gastrointestinal issues or severe weight loss.
There exists at this stage an interesting group of people who are able to actively prevent the virus from multiplying and attack the immune system. These people are known as “elite suppressors”. They can survive without any antiviral treatments or therapy, representing 1 in 300 people infected. Scientists are studying these people in hopes of eventually developing a vaccine to mimic the effects their body has over the virus.
Those unfortunate enough to not receive treatment or who are unable to suppress the virus like those mentioned above, advance to the stage of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
In order to be classified as having AIDS a person’s T-cell count must drop below 200 cells per µL(microliter). As mentioned earlier, some of the biggest red flags for possible AIDS infection include:
· pneumocystis pneumonia
· esophageal candidiasis
· respiratory tract infections
The one thing all three share is that they are not issues normally found among people with healthy immune systems. This is why they are sometimes called “opportunistic infections”, due to the fact that they only show up in people whose immune system has been weakened.
Fungus, parasites, and bacteria, all who normally are kept at bay by the mighty immune system, are now free to wreck havoc on the body, resulting in rare diseases and viral-induced cancers like
· Kaposi’s Sarcoma
· Burkitt’s lymphoma
· Primary central nervous system lymphoma
· Cervical cancer
According to mathematical models, the life expectancy of an infected person can be close to a person who’s not infected if antiretroviral therapy is started in the early stages of HIV infection. The model claims that if a 25-year-old immediately received treatment, he could go on to live a lifespan of 77 years compared to the average US lifespan of 78 years.
This implies that while we’ve yet to see a cure for HIV on the market, there are medications available to keep the virus from progressing to AIDS. There’s even been evidence to claim that people on the medication can avoid passing it to others.
Its recommended that a person that’s been diagnosed be immediately be put on a combination or “cocktail” of antiretroviral drugs. One of the most famous drugs is called azidothymidine or better known as AZT. The cost for brand name Retrovir runs around $150 on average.
We offer HIV testing for those who wished to be screened. In the event of a positive result, you will be contacted by a licensed physician via phone who will go over your results, explain what your options are, and guide you on getting treatment as soon as possible. You do not simply get left in the dark. Keep in mind that false positives, although rare, can occur, which is why most physicians will request a second blood test to make sure the results are accurate.
Until next time,