Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a severe, chronic, and potentially life-threatening viral infection caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The virus primarily targets the immune system, specifically CD4 cells, which are responsible for fighting off infections. As the virus replicates and destroys more CD4 cells, the body’s immune system weakens, making it vulnerable to opportunistic infections and cancers.
Case and Pathophysiology:
HIV is primarily transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. The most common modes of transmission include unprotected sexual contact with an infected partner, sharing needles or other injection equipment with an infected person, and from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.
Once the virus enters the body, it targets CD4 cells by binding to their surface and entering the cell. Once inside, the virus replicates and destroys the CD4 cells, leading to a decline in the number of these immune cells in the body. This decline in CD4 cells weakens the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to infections and cancers that it would normally be able to fight off.
Signs and Symptoms:
The early signs and symptoms of HIV infection are often non-specific and flu-like and may include fever, headache, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms typically occur within two to four weeks after infection and can last for several weeks.
As the virus continues to replicate and destroy CD4 cells, more severe symptoms and opportunistic infections can develop. These may include persistent fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, chronic diarrhea, skin rashes, and oral thrush.
HIV can be diagnosed through a blood test that detects the presence of HIV antibodies or the virus itself. Testing is recommended for anyone who has engaged in behaviors that put them at risk of HIV infection. Testing is also recommended for pregnant women, as early diagnosis and treatment can prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus.
While there is no cure for HIV, antiretroviral therapy (ART) can slow the replication of the virus and prevent further damage to the immune system. ART involves taking a combination of medications that target different stages of the virus’s life cycle. When taken as prescribed, ART can suppress the virus to undetectable levels and allow the immune system to recover.
There are several dos and don’ts to prevent the transmission of HIV. It is essential to use condoms during sexual activity and to avoid sharing needles or other injection equipment. Testing for HIV is recommended for anyone who has engaged in behaviors that put them at risk of infection. People living with HIV should take their medication as prescribed and follow up with their healthcare provider regularly.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). HIV Basics. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/index.html
World Health Organization. (2021). HIV/AIDS. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hiv-aids