How does HIV become AIDS?
HIV destroys CD4 T lymphocytes – white blood cells that play a big role in helping your body fight disease. The fewer CD4 T cells you have, the weaker your immune system is.
You can have HIV, with few or no symptoms, for years before it turns into AIDS. AIDS is diagnosed when your CD4 T cell count drops below 200 or you have an AIDS-defining complication, such as serious infection or cancer.
How HIV is spread
To get HIV, infected blood, semen or vaginal fluids must enter your body. This can happen in a number of ways:
During sex. You can become infected if you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected partner where blood, semen, or vaginal fluids enter your body. The virus can enter your body through a sore in your mouth or a small tear, which sometimes develops in the rectum or vagina during sex.
Due to sharing needles. Sharing contaminated IV drug accessories (needles and syringes) carries a high risk of contracting HIV and other infectious diseases, such as hepatitis.
Blood transfusion. In some cases, the virus can be transmitted through blood transfusions. US hospitals and blood banks are currently testing blood supplies for HIV antibodies, so the risk is very low.
During pregnancy or childbirth or while breastfeeding. Infected mothers can pass the virus on to their babies. HIV-infected mothers who receive treatment for the infection during pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk to their baby.
How HIV does not spread
You cannot get HIV through casual contact. This means you cannot get HIV or AIDS from hugging, kissing, dancing, or shaking hands with an infected person.
HIV is not spread through air, water or insect bites.
Cancers common to HIV / AIDS
Lymphoma. This cancer starts in the white blood cells. The most common early sign is painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin.
Kaposi’s sarcoma. A tumour in the lining of blood vessels, Kaposi’s sarcoma usually appears as pink, red, or purple lesions on the skin and mouth. In people with dark skin, the lesions may be dark brown or black. Kaposi’s sarcoma can also affect internal organs, including the gastrointestinal tract and lungs.
wasting syndrome. Untreated HIV/AIDS can cause severe weight loss, often with diarrhoea, chronic weakness, and fever.
Neurological complications. HIV can cause neurological symptoms such as confusion, forgetfulness, depression, anxiety, and difficulty walking. HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (MAIN) can range from mild symptoms of changes in behaviour and reduced mental function to severe dementia resulting in weakness and inability to function.
Kidney disease. HIV-associated kidney disease (HIVAN) is an inflammation of the small filters in the kidneys that help remove excess fluid and waste products from your blood and transfer them to your urine. It usually affects people of black or Hispanic descent.
Liver disease. Liver disease is also a major complication, especially in people who also have hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
There is no vaccine to prevent HIV infection and no cure for HIV infection. AIDS. But you can protect yourself and others from infection.
To help stop the spread of HIV:
Use treatment for prevention (TasP). If you are living with HIV, taking anti-HIV medicines can help prevent your partner from contracting the virus. If you make sure your viral load is undetectable – the blood test doesn’t show any viruses – then you won’t pass the virus on to anyone else. Using TasP means taking your medications exactly as prescribed and having regular physical exams.
Use post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) if you have been exposed to HIV in the past. If you think you have been exposed sexually, by syringe, or at work, contact your doctor or go to the emergency room. Taking PEP as early as possible in the first 72 hours can greatly reduce your risk of getting HIV. You will need to take the medicine for 28 days.
Use a new condom every time you have sex. Use a new condom every time you have anal or vaginal sex. Women can use female condoms. If you are using a lubricant, make sure it is a water-based lubricant. Oil-based lubricants can weaken condoms and cause them to break. During oral sex, use a non-lubricated, open condom or a dental patch – a medical-grade condom.
Consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). The combination of emtricitabine with tenofovir (Truvada) and emtricitabine plus tenofovir alafenamide (Descovy) may reduce the risk of sexually transmitted HIV infection in people at very high risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PrEP can reduce the risk of HIV infection from sex by more than 90% and by more than 70% from injecting drug use. Descovy has not been studied in people who have vaginal sex.
Your doctor will only prescribe these medicines for you to prevent HIV if you are not already infected with HIV. You will need an HIV test before you start taking PrEP, and then every three months while you are taking it. Your doctor will also check your kidney function before prescribing Truvada and will continue to check it every six months.
You must take your medicine every day. They do not prevent other STIs, so you should practice safe sex. If you have hepatitis B, you should be evaluated by an infectious disease or hepatologist before starting treatment.
Tell your sex partner if you have HIV. It is important to let all of your current and former sexual partners know that you are HIV-positive. They will need to be tested.
Use a clean needle. If you use a needle to inject medication, make sure it is sterile and not shared. Take advantage of needle exchange programs in your community. Consider seeking help with your drug use.
If you are pregnant, seek medical advice immediately. If you are HIV-positive, you can pass the infection on to your baby.