The term HIV stands for the human immunodeficiency virus and it is the most deadly of all sexually transmitted infections. The virus itself has no individual metabolism so that once it is inside the body it begins to attack cells. Unfortunately, the virus attacks white blood cells otherwise know as T helper or CD4 cells. The main role of these cells is to support the immune system and if the virus kills enough of these cells, it can lead to dire consequences. HIV can be transported through blood, but also commonly through unprotected vaginal, oral and anal sex.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms begin at soon after the primary infection. Around one to six weeks after the initial infection sufferers begin to experience either flu like symptoms or something called a dumb infection which has little or no symptoms. The flu like symptoms include swollen glands, a sore throat, rashes on the chest, fatigue and some muscle or joint pain.
Six to twelve weeks after the initial infection, white blood cell antibodies may be discovered in the blood at a significant rate. From here, carriers may feel well, but as the year’s progress symptoms may begin to emerge. It will take nine years for HIV to progress to the AIDS end stage of the infection. If you suspect you may have come into contact with a carrier, have had unprotected sex or experience any of the flu like symptoms, please contact your doctor or local hospital for emergency consultation. The sooner the virus can be identified, the better chance a patient has of responding well to medication.

What can HIV lead to?

HIV can often develop into acquired immune deficiency syndrome. This is a condition that occurs once HIV has destroyed enough CD4 or T Helper cells that the body’s immune system is no longer able to deal with any infections. Infections created by micro organisms that had previously been easily dealt with, can no longer be blocked and in some cases can lead to disorders like dementia, meningitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, some fungal disorders and even cancer of the skin and lymph nodes. Sufferers can also expect to experience blisters, deep ulcers, weight loss, fatigue, diarrhoea, night sweats, swollen nodes, skin and bronchial infections. Furthermore, any dormant infections like shingles or herpes can be reactivated with a much more heightened effect. If these conditions combine or intensify, it can more often than not, lead to death.

How do I diagnose it?

A doctor can effectively diagnose the disorder. They will take a blood test to identify the presence of the CD4 or T helper cell antibodies in the blood which demonstrate the presence of HIV and thus allows a doctor to define someone as HIV positive. Doctors will measure the level of CD4 in the blood. If over 500 there is no problem. Any count level from 200 to 500 brings with it a risk of infection while those with a count under 200 carry a much greater risk. Doctors will usually begin treatment on any patient with a count below 350.

How can I treat it?

There is no definitive cure for HIV. However, thanks to a medical technique call post exposure prophylaxis the infection can sometimes be halted within the first seventy two hours since infection. Anti HIV medicines will be administered to the patient who must take them for a month long period. They are not guaranteed to work and do possess side effects such as nausea, vomiting, headaches and diarrhea. Treatment is usually started early with patients that have become recently infected or suspect infection, as the sooner it is addressed, the better the chances of survival. However, the side effects are very unpleasant and it is therefore important that a patient weighs up the likelihood of infection before becoming involved. For those patients whose CD4 reading falls under 350, a course of highly active antiretroviral therapy or h.a.a.r.t is recommended. Because the virus can mutate and create new variants that our resistant to medicines, doctors try to combat this through the use of medication combinations. Anti viral medicine is used to stop the spread of the virus. If works by strengthening the immune system. This reduces the risk of further illness, though the patient remains infectious to others. Vaccinations are provided against disorders like fly, pneumonia and hepatitis, while other person specific infections and problems like loss of appetite and nausea are addressed. Diets are also strictly monitored as the virus can affect the digestive system. If concerned about being at risk to HIV it is always wise to be tested. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the outcome.

Where can I go?

For initial consultation contact either goes to your doctor or a Genito Urinary Medicine clinic. However for emergency consultation do not hesitate to visit your local accident and emergency hospital ward. HIV clinics and organizations like the Terence Higgins trust also provide additional information and support with medication and counseling for any HIV sufferers.

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