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Health Corners
HIV and AIDS

"HIV/AIDS accompanies poverty, is spread by poverty and produces poverty in its turn, ” says the United Nations Population Fund in its paper on AIDS. The worst affected countries are in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe.

The UNAIDS report projects that, in the absence of drastically expanded prevention and treatment efforts, 68 million people will die because of AIDS in the 45 most affected countries between 2000 and 2020, more than five times the 13 million deaths of the previous two decades of the epidemic in those countries.

AIDS spreads because of risk behaviours rather than risk “factors”. Awareness can lead to an avoidance of these behaviours.

Despite the absence of preventive vaccine/medication and cure, there is an improvement in the quality of life for the AIDS patient. Yet, the stigma associated with AIDS prevents the patient from benefiting from the best care available.

This section attempts at raising awareness on HIV infection and AIDS. This section hopes to fight the stigma people with HIV face and provides tips on coping with the disease. You can also view Dr Sunithi Solomon’s views on AIDS and management.

Source: The material for this section is sourced from YRGCare,India.

HIV stands for Human immunodeficiency Virus.
It only causes disease in humans. It’s presence in the bloodstream leads to the depletion of white blood cells leading to lowering of immunity.

The incubation period:

Once the virus enters the body it lies dormant for many years and hence is known as a slow virus. Most other viruses, for example, those causing measles, mumps, chicken pox etc., manifest the disease in 14-21 days after they enter the body. In HIV the incubation period is very long and runs into years.

HIV and the Immune System

Once HIV enters the body, it gets attached to a type of white blood cell called the lymphocyte (which is the T cell in the human body's protection against infections). The RNA (genetic material) of the virus then gets converted to DNA (genetic material) by an enzyme that the virus produces. This viral DNA then gets incorporated in to the DNA of the human cell (T lymphocyte) and remains there for the lifetime of that cell. This infected cell now becomes a virus factory producing more viruses (HIV), which bud out of the cell, attack new T lymphocytes, and destroy them. Over a period of years, the T cell count of the infected person drops to a critical level and the individual develops many opportunistic infections and hence is then said to have AIDS.

HIV Outside the Body

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus is fragile.
Once the virus is outside the body in a dry form, it dies immediately.
Even in a wet state, it does not live long when exposed to heat, detergents, or disinfectants.
When stored in blood banks at 4.C it can live for about 3 weeks (or longer) or till the white cell disintegrates.
In a frozen state it can survive for years.

HIV and AIDS – The Relation and the Difference

A person living with HIV (medically known as an HIV positive person) is one who has virus in his/her body. Such a person remains infected and is presumed infective for the rest of his/her life. However, she/he will appear to be perfectly normal and healthy and asymptomatic for many years. An asymptomatic HIV infected person does not have Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

But when an HIV positive person's T lymphocytes (which are responsible for the immunity) count falls to 200 or less, she/he starts developing symptoms, for example, cough, fever, diarrhoea, skin lesions, etc.

These are due to opportunistic infections (so called because they develop when the body’s immunity becomes deficient) like TB, thrush, pneumonia, Cryptococcal meningitis, etc.

All persons with AIDS are infected with HIV, but not all persons with HIV infection have AIDS. AIDS is only the end stage of this infection.

The Progress from HIV to AIDS

A few weeks after the virus enters the body, some people have flu like symptoms such as fever, body ache, and headache (every infected person may not experience these same symptoms). These symptoms disappear after a while and then there is a long phase of 3 years to 12 years, which is asymptomatic. After that, when the immune system starts failing AIDS sets in.

The rate of progress depends on the mode of the HIV transmission and the lifestyle of the HIV positive person. Majority of persons who are infected through blood transfusion develop symptoms on an average from 3 years to 5 years. With the other modes of transmission when the quantum of the virus is low, the person can remain healthy for 8 to 12 years or longer.

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