HIV and AIDS are different things, but you can think of them as a two-headed monster that never goes anywhere alone. Many people use both terms interchangeably, but as usual, people are wrong. Both are medical conditions yet different diagnoses. In the past, a diagnosis of either HIV or AIDS was considered death sentence because even the smartest doctor in town could not suggest effective treatments. Thanks to years of painstaking persistent research and the fact that medical laboratories are actually filled with people who know what they’re doing instead of you, people diagnosed with the conditions can now live longer and remain productive.
It stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus; that is quite a mouthful, so let’s just use the acronym. As the name suggests, HIV is a virus that attacks human immune system. A healthy person is able to impede the progress of a large variety of diseases because there is a properly working immune system inside the body. Immune system works like a computer antivirus program but you don’t need to download and install it first. As soon you were born into this world, the system is improving and getting very good at recognizing all the cells that make up your entire body, including those in your nasal hair. Anytime your body receives uninvited unfamiliar cells such as parasites or unfriendly bacteria and viruses, the system will try to get rid of them.
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Early Symptoms of HIV
The most common early symptoms of HIV infection are flu-like conditions. In fact, about 40% - 90% of people infected by the virus develop the one or more of the following signs such as:
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
- Mouth ulcers
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Night sweats
Several things to notice:
Such symptoms may last for 2 to 4 weeks after the infection occurs, yet it is possible that those signs may not appear at all. Please note that early infection includes all instances in the past 6 months (recent) and acute infection (very recent); the latter does not typically develop flu-like symptoms.
Within 6 months after infection takes place, an HIV test may fail to recognize the existence of the virus at all. However, people who have the virus are highly infectious during these times. Put in mind that just because you have any of the aforementioned symptoms, it does not mean you have HIV; there is a very good chance that either the sweating or chilling you had last night was because some mice ruined the air conditioner.
HIV can only be transmitted through activities that involve direct contacts with certain body fluids from a person who has the virus. More specifically, the fluids are:
- Pre-seminal fluid
- Rectal fluids
- Vaginal fluids
- Breast milk
One of those fluids must also come in contact with another person’s damaged tissue or mucous membrane or be injected directly into the bloodstream for transmission to occur. This is the main reason that new sterile needle or syringe is mandatory for any medical (such as administering drugs and taking blood samples) and non-medical (for example getting a tattoo) purposes. Mosquitoes do not transmit HIV.
Clinical Latency Stage
First of all, apologize for the alien phrase, but there does not seem to be an easier alternative. Following the early stage of infection, the virus changes its characteristic from extremely aggressive to unbearably lazy; this condition is called Clinical Latency Stage or simply chronic HIV infection. The virus remains active inside the body but it reproduces at very uninteresting level of intensity. This is a trick so that the virus arouses no curiosity or attention. At this stage, an infected person may not develop any symptom at all; even if there are symptoms, they are only mild. Clinical Latency Stage may last for a decade or even longer.
There is no HIV cure, but infected people who take medications called antiretroviral therapy or ART as suggested by doctors can keep the virus in check, which means they can live healthy normal lives despite the virus in their bodies. Since the virus remains active, however, they can still pass the infection to others.
HIV is the virus, and AIDS is the condition it may cause. HIV-infected people who do not take ART medications will eventually develop a condition called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS); this is the final stage of HIV infection.
The virus attacks immune system, and then reproduces at very low rate inside human body. Without proper medication, there will be continuous uncontrolled damages to the immune system. As the damage reaches critical point, immune system is rendered useless. In other words, the body is highly susceptible to a great number of infections and certain types of cancers including but not limited to:
- Tuberculosis: infectious disease that mainly affects the lungs.
- Cryptococcal meningitis: inflammation of the spinal cord as well as the membranes and fluids surrounding the brain.
- Kaposi's sarcoma: a type of cancer that develops from blood vessel or cells that line lymph; very common in HIV-infected people.
- Kidney disease: a condition that potentially leads to kidney failure without treatment.
- Wasting syndrome: rapid loss of body weight often accompanied by chronic weakness, fever, and diarrhea.
Again, apologize for the strange medical terms.
HIV without AIDS
Many HIV-infected people can live for many years without even developing AIDS. An HIV infection, especially with proper treatment and medication, does not make AIDS a certain thing. While the treatment including ART may help prevent AIDS from developing, it is not a cure for HIV so the infection persists.
Once AIDS develops, there can be various symptoms such as:
- Extreme tiredness
- Recurring fever
- Diarrhea that last for more than a week
- Rapid weight loss
- Sore of genital, mouth, and anus
- Blotches (they can be red, pink, purple, or blue) inside the mouth, eyelids, nose, under the skin, or on the skin
- Memory loss
- Neurologic disorders
- Prolonged swelling of lymph glands in neck, armpits, and groin
The only way to make sure whether or not someone has HIV/AIDS is by having a medical examination or test. Every symptom is related to other types of diseases or medical conditions and possibly not caused by HIV infection at all. AIDS is a condition in which the immune system has been damaged, and therefore many of the symptoms, infections, sickness, and medical disorders are the results of weakened immune system.
Difference between AIDS and Autoimmune Disease
By definitions alone, the two conditions may sound similar because both are related to immune system. However, they are very different. Autoimmune disease is the inability of immune system to distinguish between cells that make up your body and those that attack your body. In this condition, the immune system basically regards all cells as malignant, and therefore it tries to kill every cell. On the other hand, AIDS is a condition where the immune system is unable to fight of infections. Immune system still recognizes damaging cells, but it is unable to defend the body.