Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV damages your system by interfering with your body’s ability to fight infection and disease. Untreated, HIV can progress to AIDS within a decade. Currently, there is no cure for AIDS, and without treatment, life expectancy after diagnosis is about three years.
A person can also be diagnosed with AIDS if they have HIV and develop an opportunistic infection or cancer that’s rare in people who don’t have HIV. However, treatment with antiretroviral drugs can prevent AIDS from developing.
The development of AIDS is a sign of a severely compromised system, that is, weakened to the point where it can no longer successfully fight against most diseases and infections.
How does HIV become AIDS?
You can have an HIV infection, with few or no symptoms for years before it turns into AIDS. AIDS is diagnosed when the count of the white blood cells that fight infections (CD4 or Tcell) fall below 200 or you have an AIDS-defining complication, such as a serious infection or cancer.
At the end of last year, a total high of 38.4 million people was living with HIV, globally. Over the past two decades, major global efforts have been put in place to address the epidemic, and significant progress has been made. The number of people newly infected with HIV, especially children, and the number of AIDS-related deaths has declined over the years, and the number of people with HIV receiving treatment decreased to 28.7 million in 2021.
A total of 23,495 people in Ghana tested positive for HIV in the first half of this year, which is 2% of the 948,094 people who took HIV testing from January to June 2022. “The figure for this new infection is too high, hence the need to intensify education to let people know that HIV is still real; We have to let people know that they need to stick to the prevention strategies” as stated by Dr Stephen Ayisi Addo, the Programmes Manager of the National STIs and HIV/AIDS Control Programme, per a report filed by graphic online.
Common signs of the virus and the different stages are as follows;
Stage 1: acute HIV infection
- Fever and muscle pains
- Sore throat
- Night sweat
- Swollen lymph
Stage 2: clinical latency
In this stage of infection, HIV is still present in the body and white blood cells. However, many people may not have symptoms or infections during this time. This stage can last for many years if one is receiving antiretroviral therapy(ART). Some people develop more severe diseases much sooner.
Stage 3: AIDS
- rapid weight loss
- recurring fever or profuse night sweat
- Diarrhoea that lasts for more than one week
- Memory loss and depression
- Sexual Intercourse:
you may become infected if you have vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected partner whose blood, semen or vaginal secretions enter your body. The virus can enter your body through mouth sores or small tears that sometimes develop in the rectum or vagina during sexual activity.
- Needles and sharp objects:
Sharing contaminated injection drug kits such as needles and syringes puts you at a high risk of HIV and other infectious diseases such as hepatitis. Also, Sharing grooming kits such as razor blades, clippers and tattoo pens without sterilizing them.
- Blood transfusion:
In some cases, the virus may be admitted through blood transfusions. Hospitals and blood banks screen the blood supply for HIV so the risk is very small in the US and other upper-middle-income countries. The risk may be higher in low-income countries that are not able to screen all donated blood.
- During pregnancy or delivery or through breastfeeding:
Infected mothers can pass the virus on to their babies through breastfeeding. Mothers who are HIV positive and get treatment for the infection during pregnancy can significantly lower the risk to their babies.
A child can also contract HIV through “premastication,” or chewing a baby’s food by an infected person before feeding.
However, it is also key to note that HIV can not be transferred through the following:
- skin-to-skin contact.
- hugging and shaking hands.
- air or water.
- sharing food or drinks, including drinking fountains
- saliva, tears, or sweat (unless mixed with the blood of a person with HIV).
- sharing a toilet, towels, or bedding.
- Mosquitoes or other insects.
Prevention and Management
There is no vaccine to prevent HIV infection and no cure for HIV/AIDS. But you can protect yourself and others from infection
To help prevent the spread of HIV:
- Consider Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP):
PrEP can reduce your risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% and from drug use by at least 74% according to the Centres for Disease Control and prevention. The FDA recently approved Cabotegravir (Apretude), the first injectable (PrEP) to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted HIV infection in people at very high risk.
- Use Treatment as Prevention (Tasp):
Using TasP means taking your medications exactly as prescribed and getting regular check-ups. If you are living with HIV, taking HIV medication can keep your partner from becoming infected with the virus. If you make sure your viral load stays undetectable, and a blood test doesn’t show any virus then, you won’t transmit the virus to anyone else through sex.
- Use Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) if you have been exposed to HIV: if you think you have been exposed through sex, needles or in the workplace, contact your health care provider or go to the emergency department. Taking PEP as soon as possible within the first 72 hours can greatly reduce your risk of becoming infected with HIV. You will need to take medication for 28 days.
- Use new condoms every time you have sex.
- Tell your sexual partners if you have HIV.
- Use a clean needle.
- If you are pregnant and HIV positive, get your antiretroviral treatment right away.
- Consider male circumcision in the Hospital.
- Get tested for STIs, since contracting them frequently increases one’s chances of contracting HIV.
- Health care workers must report all needle stick injuries for appropriate management.
There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, however, there are medications that can help control and manage the infection to prevent the progression of the disease. Antiviral treatment for HIV has reduced AIDS deaths around the world, and international organizations are working to increase the availability of prevention measures and treatment in resource-poor countries. Thus, all of us need to come together and make essential HIV services available to all who need them.
You can also reach out to our Public Health Unit at Nyaho on 0501481473 for counselling and guidance on HIV/AIDS.
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Dudekonda, S., & Narayanswami, G. (2021). Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Mount Sinai Expert Guides: Critical Care, 480-490.
Dzansi, G. (2017). Integrated mobile phone interventions for adherence to antiretroviral treatment in clients with HIV infection in Accra, Ghana.
Kibet, G. J. (2020). PREDICTORS OF LOSS TO FOLLOW UP AMONG ADULTPATIENTSIN-ITIATED ON ANTIRETROVIRAL THERAPY IN NAKURU WEST SUB-COUNTY HEALTH FACILITIES, KENYA (Doctoral dissertation, MMUST).
Lapadula, G., Chatenoud, L., Gori, A., Castelli, F., Di Giambenedetto, S., Fabbiani, M., … & Italian MASTER Cohort. (2015). Risk of severe non-AIDS events is increased among patients unable to increase their CD4+ T-cell counts> 200+/μl despite effective HAART. PLoS One, 10(5), e0124741.