Learn more about HIV-AIDS with these five frequently asked questions
HIV continues to be one of the world’s biggest public health problems. In 2020, 37.7 million people were living with HIV worldwide.
However, increasing access to prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care has made HIV a treatable chronic health problem. People living with HIV are now able to live a better quality of life.
The number of new infections has fallen by 52% since the 1997 peak. According to UNAIDS, In 2020, 1.5 million new HIV infections were reported compared with the 3 million reported in 1997.
The fight against HIV has made great strides, and in December, as we mark World AIDS Day, we must continue to stand together to support people living with HIV and remember those who have died. That’s why it’s important to continue to educate people about this virus and the disease. Here is a list of the main frequently asked questions:
1. What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
HIV and AIDS are two terms that can be confused, although they are different, the two are related. HIV is a virus that can lead to the disease called AIDS, also known as stage 3 HIV.
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This virus only attacks the human immune system, mainly CD4-positive T cells and macrophages. Infection with this virus leads to a progressive weakening of the immune system, which is called immunodeficiency.
People with immune deficiency are more vulnerable to infections and cancers. Diseases associated with severe immunodeficiency are considered opportunistic infections because they take advantage of a weakened immune system.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is a disease that is caused by contracting HIV. AIDS, or Stage 3 HIV, develops when the virus has caused severe damage to the immune system.
2. What are the symptoms?
The symptoms vary depending on the stage of infection.
* Primary infection (acute HIV): Some infected people may develop a flu-like illness two to four weeks after the virus enters their body. It may last a few weeks and present the following symptoms: Fever; headache; muscle and joint pain; mouth pain and sores; swollen glands; diarrhea; weight loss, etc.
These symptoms may be mild; however, the viral load is high, so it easily spreads through the body.
* Clinical latent infection (chronic HIV): In many people, there may be no symptoms during this stage; however, HIV is still present in the body. This phase of the infection can last for a long time if the patient does not receive antiretroviral treatment.
* Symptomatic HIV infection: In this phase, the virus continues to multiply and destroy immune cells. In the defense against the virus, you can develop mild infections or chronic signs and symptoms such as the following: fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, weight loss, candidiasis, herpes, pneumonia, etc.
3. When is a person diagnosed with AIDS?
The term AIDS refers to the most advanced stages of HIV. Most people infected with HIV can develop symptoms within eight to ten years if they are not treated. Although the length of time may vary from person to person, antiretroviral therapy can prevent the development of AIDS by reducing the viral load in the infected body.
We use the term AIDS when the infections caused by the virus start to cause symptoms. From stage II we speak of AIDS. The patient presents certain symptoms such as mild candidiasis and frequent infections of the upper respiratory tract.
Another diagnostic system to determine the presence of AIDS disease is the number of CD4 positive T cells (less than 200 per mm3 of blood). These cells are a type of lymphocytes, which play an important role in the immune system. The less of them the weaker the patient will be.
4. Is there a cure for HIV?
There is no cure that will make the virus disappear from the body, although there are effective treatments that allow people with HIV to live a good quality of life, if started immediately and taken regularly.
When HIV infection is detected, a treatment with antiretroviral drugs is used. These drugs work by blocking HIV from reproducing in the body. So, when a person with HIV is effectively treated with these drugs, he/she cannot transmit the disease.
5. How do antiretroviral medicines work and is the treatment effective?
HIV makes copies of itself inside infected cells, thereby infecting other healthy cells in the body. Antiretroviral drugs slow down the replication process, and therefore the spread of the virus in the body.
The antiretroviral treatment has shown to reduce HIV-related illnesses and AIDS-related deaths. It is not a cure, but this combination therapy has allowed people with HIV to live longer, healthier and more productive lives by reducing the virus and increasing the number of CD4-positive cells.
6. What are the implications of being HIV-positive in the COVID-19 pandemic?
People with HIV should take all recommended preventive measures to minimize exposure to the new virus and avoid infection caused by the coronavirus disease. Like the elderly or those with heart or lung problems, HIV patients are at higher risk of becoming infected with the virus and developing severe symptoms.
AIDS continues to be an important chronic disease for the world public health. However, it cannot be denied that progress in treatments and prevention of the disease has allowed a decrease in the numbers of infections and deaths associated with HIV.
Nevertheless, we cannot lower our guard and we must remember that HIV has not disappeared. So, it is important to continue funding and research for a cure.