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HIV/AIDS

Overview

HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection is known as one of the deadliest diseases in the whole world. To date, there are over 40 million people who are diagnosed with HIV. For over 3 decades, around 25 million people have already lost their lives because of this disease. In the United States, there are currently 1 million people who have been infected with this disease. Around the world, 85% of heterosexuals are attributed to the transmission of HIV. 15% of HIV diagnoses are attributed to the use of intravenous drugs. Across the world, 42% of those diagnosed with HIV are women. To date, the infection of HIV in children has decreased dramatically.

HIV is known as a group of retroviruses. Upon infection, the virus causes damages to the cells, affecting the immune system. The body tries to compensate by producing new cells to fight the infection but fails as HIV spreads at a faster rate and disables the body from fighting various infections and other types of cancers.

AIDS refers to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. It occurs to patients who already have HIV. With this condition, the body is not able to defend itself from infections and cancers, which leads to death.

Symptoms

While most patients are not aware that they may already be infected with HIV, some of the symptoms are noticeable. A flu-like condition that lasts from a few days to a couple of weeks can occur after a person has been exposed or infected. Among other symptoms are headaches, fatigue, and enlarged or swollen lymph nodes in the area of the neck.

AIDS occurs during the later stage of infection with HIV. This is where the body is not able to fight off infections anymore. When the cell count for CD4 falls extremely low, a patient is already suffering from AIDS.

Diagnosis

The most common method for the diagnosis of HIV is through a series of blood tests. RNA tests, antibody tests, and a test for detecting the p24 protein virus is performed in addition to a Western blot to confirm whether a patient is infected with HIV.

A single test will not suffice in order for a person to be diagnosed as falsely negative or falsely positive for HIV. It usually takes more time for the body’s immune system to make antibodies that will result to a positive test. This so-called “window period” usually lasts from 6 weeks up to 3 months. If the first test results indicate negative, a repeat or follow-up test is required after 3 months.

HIV home or self testing kits are also available in drugstores and local pharmacies. After pricking the finger, the blood is blotted on a strip of filter. Other self testing kits require urine or saliva instead of blood. The test strip is then sealed and sent to a lab for further testing. Within a week or two, the results are mailed back to the owner.

Treatment

Over the past few decades, certain drugs have been made available to patients in fighting off the infections caused by HIV. Known as HAART or Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy, these drugs are proven to be effective in reducing the complications and sudden deaths caused by HIV. While there is still no cure for HIV and AIDS, the use of HAART has significantly improved the lives of those infected with the disease, and has helped researchers and scientists in trying to find a cure.

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