What is HIV?
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus which attacks and weakens the human body’s immune system (specifically, T-cells). This infection leads to a reduction in the human body’s ability to fight against diseases like infections and cancers.
How is HIV transmitted?
You can get infected with HIV if you come into contact with blood or body fluids (such as semen or vaginal fluids) from a person with HIV. This can happen during unprotected sex or while sharing toothbrushes, razors, needles, and syringes with HIV-infected individuals. Mother to child transmission can occur during pregnancy, child birth, or breastfeeding.
HIV is not transmitted by shaking hands, hugging, sneezing, touching unbroken skin, using same toilet, or by sharing utensils.
What are the symptoms of HIV/AIDS?
The initial infection with HIV resembles any common viral fever and usually goes unnoticed. One can develop fever, sore throat, headache, muscle pain, and joint pain during this period. These symptoms usually last for about 2 weeks. However, as years pass by, the immunity starts waning and the individual becomes susceptible to infections and cancers. Unexplained fever, recurrent diarrhea, or weight loss are common during this period.
What is AIDS?
Without treatment, HIV infection leads to a progressive decline in the person’s immunity over several years and will eventually develop into a stage called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). At this stage, the body’s immune system is extremely weak and the person becomes susceptible to several infections and cancers which do not easily occur in healthy individuals. Infections with tuberculosis (TB), fungi, and a type of blood cancer called lymphoma are common in individuals who have developed AIDS.
How is HIV diagnosed?
HIV can be diagnosed by a simple blood test. However, it should be kept in mind that it can take from 3 weeks to 6 months for the test to become positive after initial infection. Hence, repeat testing may be necessary after a few months in some cases.
Can HIV be cured?
There is currently no cure for HIV/AIDS, however, proper treatment (antiretroviral therapy or ART) can control the infection. ART can stop the progression of this condition and allows most people living with HIV to lead a long and relatively healthy life. Early initiation and adherence to ART regimens is the key to success.
How to prevent HIV?
There is no vaccine to prevent HIV/AIDS. Hence, prevention is better than cure. Avoiding unsafe practices like unprotected sex and sharing needles and syringes should be avoided. If you have HIV and are pregnant, your doctor can start you on ART and take other measures to reduce the risk of transmission of HIV to your child.