According to abbreviationfinder, HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The human immunodeficiency virus (Hi-Virus) is a virus from the retrovirus family. People who have become infected with the HI virus develop the disease AIDS after an incubation period of several years. The virus is transmitted through unprotected sexual contact, through a blood transfusion or through contaminated syringes. So far, an HIV infection or AIDS is treatable but not curable.
What is Human Immunodeficiency Virus?
The human immunodeficiency virus is the causative agent of the immune deficiency disease AIDS. A person is classified as HIV-positive if antibodies against the virus can be detected in the blood.
Antibodies are always formed by the human body when a viral infection is to be fought off. If a person has been infected with the HI virus, in most cases in the first three months after infection they will show a clinical picture that is similar to a flu infection. The symptoms subside quite quickly and the patient remains symptom-free for years.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The symptoms of an HIV infection can express themselves differently in the respective affected person. In some cases, the infection is asymptomatic for years, often going unnoticed. Other infected people develop mild or serious infections early on. A few days to weeks after being infected with the virus, many of those affected experience an acute HIV phase with non-specific symptoms that can resemble those of a common cold or flu.
Fever that lasts for several days, heavy night sweats, lethargy, headache, joint and muscle pain and swollen lymph nodes, for example in the armpit or neck area, are common. About half of those infected with HIV also develop a small, itchy rash on the back, abdomen, or chest that can last for several days. It typically occurs in combination with fever.
However, this does not have to be the case. It is also significant that weight loss and loss of appetite often occur. Other possible symptoms include open areas in the mouth, tonsil pain, inflammation in the throat, recurring episodes of fever and diarrhea. An early HIV infection is often confused with glandular fever due to the pronounced symptoms.
Importance & History
Immediately after an HIV infection, those affected do not notice the infection at first. During this phase of the disease, the doctor speaks of “stage A, new infection without symptoms”.
During this phase, there is only an acute HIV disease, which can be easily confused with a flu-like infection due to the symptoms that occur. Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, headaches and body aches , tiredness, fever and loss of appetite.
Apart from this episode, a patient with an HIV infection can usually live completely symptom-free for years. If the infection goes undetected, the patient will progress to stage B HIV infection. The patient will first show symptoms that are among the AIDS-related diseases. These include bouts of fever of over 38.5 degrees for which no other cause can be identified, repeated diarrhea, shingles, various infections and fungal infections in the mouth and throat.
In stage B, the patient will constantly experience losses in his quality of life, his body will increasingly degrade in its function. If the infection progresses even further, the patient will develop symptoms of stage C – also called full-blown AIDS. The patient shows a significant weight loss due to severe diarrhea.
In addition, the immune-compromised body is no longer able to ward off any pathogens, so that the patient shows numerous, rather rare infections, such as pneumonia, salmonella, toxoplasmosis or increased fungal infestation of the esophagus and trachea, bronchi and lungs. Many patients in stage C show malignancies such as cervical cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
If an infection with the human immunodeficiency virus is not treated, the number of helper cells in the body decreases continuously. A serious immune deficiency then occurs after about ten years on average and is determined by the diseases that define AIDS.
If left untreated, an outbreak of AIDS after infection with HIV leads to death after some time. Complications can also occur when HIV is treated with anti-retroviral combination therapy. Due to the high mutation rate of the virus itself, the efforts of the patient’s remaining immune system in combination with a suitable therapy can initially achieve an improvement, but can be canceled out again by the development of resistance in the HIV.
It is then necessary to adjust the medication again. In almost all cases, mild and moderate side effects can be assumed. Some active ingredients are toxic to the internal organs in the long term and therefore only lead to serious damage after a long time.
Another complication is the occurrence of a so-called superinfection with HIV: the already infected person becomes infected with another strain of the human immunodeficiency virus. This puts an additional strain on the immune system and makes therapy more difficult.
When should you go to the doctor?
People who maintain changing sexual contacts should always carry out a control test for sexually transmitted diseases at regular intervals. If contraception does not take place with a condom, there is an increased risk of infection for sexually transmitted diseases. Since the first symptoms of the human immunodeficiency virus often only appear at an advanced stage, those affected should develop a good feeling for changes in their health.
If you have swollen lymph nodes, inexplicable weight loss, or persistent loss of appetite, you should be concerned. If symptoms persist for several weeks or months or if they spread, a visit to a doctor is recommended. A gradual increase in symptoms is a warning sign. If there are problems with digestion, unpleasant flatulence or diarrhea, a doctor’s visit is necessary.
If you are persistently listless, tired or exhausted despite good sleep hygiene, you should consult a doctor. If you have a fungal infection in your mouth or throat, breathing problems or joint pain, you should consult a doctor. Breathing disorders or pauses in breathing must be investigated and treated immediately. Life-threatening situations or secondary diseases can occur. A doctor’s visit is recommended in the event of a diffuse feeling of illness, malaise or general weakness.
Treatment & Therapy
If you suspect that you have been infected with the HI virus, it is advisable to have a test done immediately. All health authorities offer free and anonymous tests. With such a test, antibodies against the virus are determined – if no antibodies are detectable, the test is negative, ie there is no infection. In the opposite case, the test will show a positive result. Since the test has often shown a false positive result in the past, a positive test is always repeated.
If an HIV infection is detected early, it is easily treatable. Although the infection itself cannot be treated – the patient will remain “HIV-positive” for the rest of his life – the outbreak of the immune deficiency disease AIDS can be delayed for a long time. There are various drugs to choose from that aim to inhibit certain processes in the cells.
So-called entry inhibitors, which prevent the HI virus from penetrating the human cell and being able to multiply, achieve good results. Protease inhibitors prevent the formation of proteins, which in turn form new HI viruses.
In addition to the health restrictions, people infected with HIV are still at the mercy of the dangers of social exclusion. Although infection with the virus is only possible through unprotected sexual intercourse, through sharing infected and uncleaned syringes or through a blood transfusion, many people avoid dealing with people infected with HIV. HIV-positive people can find help in self-help groups or with psychological support.
In the case of the immunodeficiency virus, in most cases the affected person has very few or no follow-up measures available. The person concerned should make sure to consult a doctor as soon as the first symptoms and signs of the disease appear, so that there are no further complications or complaints.
The disease itself cannot be completely cured, so that there are usually no special aftercare measures. The primary aim should be to prevent infection or transmission of this disease. Therefore, a condom should always be used during intercourse. In many cases, the immunodeficiency virus can be alleviated if it is recognized early.
Those affected are usually dependent on taking medication, whereby it is important to ensure that they are taken regularly and that the correct dosage is used. It is not uncommon for the affected patients to require psychological support, which can be provided by their own family or by parents and friends. Whether the disease will lead to a reduced life expectancy cannot be predicted in general.
Outlook & Forecast
According to the current state of science, there is no possibility of a complete cure, the infection with the human immunodeficiency virus persists for life. However, the prognosis has improved significantly in recent years. Before the development of modern treatment methods, HIV-infected people in industrialized countries could count on an additional life expectancy of 8 to 15 years after infection, today this is significantly higher.
Thanks to antiretroviral therapy, those affected usually do not have to accept any significant losses in their quality of life for years if treatment is started early. The prognosis is worse if the disease is only discovered at an advanced stage. An already massively weakened immune system responds less well to therapy, and the prospect of long-term freedom from symptoms is far lower in this case. In addition, the success of the treatment is strongly influenced by the cooperation of the patient. The drugs prescribed by the doctor must be taken regularly, consistently and exactly as prescribed in order to achieve positive results.
With consistent therapy, the life expectancy of young HIV-infected people without other underlying diseases can now be assumed to be approximately the same as that of healthy people. Patients who only become infected with the virus at an advanced age or who suffer from other chronic diseases must expect a shorter life expectancy in comparison.
You can do that yourself
The self-help measures in the event of an infection with the human immunodeficiency virus are particularly useful in connection with drug therapy. They deal primarily with how the affected person deals with his or her infection and with possible psychological support, which is relevant shortly after the diagnosis.
There are self-help groups and counseling services for those affected in many places. Here, intensive information is provided on all aspects of “living with HIV”. In addition, knowledge about the infection itself can be deepened here. The mere fact that an infection with HIV no longer means a death sentence is a relief for many. Dealing with it confidently, which ideally also extends to informing relatives and sexual partners, makes life easier for those affected. Depending on the environment, however, resistance can arise in the form of discrimination and ignorance. A trustworthy social environment is all the more important. Knowing and conveying the fact that an HIV-positive person does not pose a risk to other people with appropriate therapy and behavior
Furthermore, there are many ways for those affected to improve their quality of life in relation to their health. A healthy diet and exercise protect against other diseases. Maintaining work and social contacts enables an ordinary life without restrictions.