What does HIV Infection Stand for?

HIV Infection

HIV infection is not the same as AIDS. An infection by the HI virus (HIV) is initially only the infection by the triggering virus, which can subsequently lead to AIDS.

What is HIV infection?

According to DIGOPAUL, the human immunodeficiency virus is known in English as humane deficiency virus, or HIV for short. When infected with such viruses, one does not immediately speak of an AIDS disease, because AIDS only describes the appearance of the first symptoms and not the infection with this pathogen itself.

Recognizable symptoms due to an infection describe the end stage of HIV, one now speaks of a disease, the acquired immune deficiency syndrome – AIDS. The HIV infection was first described in the USA in the 1980s and is still a treatable, but incurable and mostly fatal disease.

Causes

The most common way of transmission of HIV infection is unprotected sexual intercourse. The partners become infected unnoticed through the smallest injuries to the mucous membrane. The risk of HIV infection is also very high when transmitting HIV-infected blood. This often happens in the drug environment when dependent people use syringes and needles belonging to other dependents. A very small proportion of those infected were infected during pregnancy or through breastfeeding from a sick mother.

In general, a certain amount of virus material is required for transmission and this takes place via body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. However, droplet infection is not possible. Insufficient education of the population about this disease and little knowledge about the risk of infection prevent the containment of this infectious disease. The prevalence is particularly high in South Africa.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

An HIV infection often shows symptoms in the acute phase after infection. These then appear within a few days or weeks. They include a rash on the upper body, severe night sweats, mouth sores, fever, fatigue, and headache and neck pain. Joint pain, swollen lymph nodes and swollen tonsils also occur. Overall, the symptoms can be very similar to those of the flu.

Occasionally, infected people show no symptoms at all. Also almost never all symptoms occur at the same time, but only some or only one of them. Since most symptoms are rather unspecific, no HIV infection can be derived from them.

When the acute phase of HIV infection is over and the body has produced antibodies, the symptoms subside. There is a long and symptomless latency phase. Finally, when the immune system is sufficiently damaged by HIV, opportunistic infections can occur, the nature and quantity of which also determine whether AIDS is eventually diagnosed. In this case, the transition from an HIV infection with serious symptoms to AIDS is fluid. The opportunistic infections include fungal, bacterial, and viral infections, as well as a variety of other conditions that can occur in immunocompromised individuals.

Course

HIV is a retrovirus and needs the nucleus of a host cell to reproduce. Various stages of the disease can be distinguished within the course of an HIV infection. After the infection, symptoms often appear a few weeks later that are very similar to flu and can therefore go unnoticed: fever, diarrhea, headache, lymph node swelling, body aches.

In the years that follow, HIV antibodies can be detected in the patient, but those infected can live without developing any symptoms. With the so-called lymphadenopathy syndrome, lymph node swelling can occur in various parts of the body over several months and with the AIDS-related complex, weight loss, night sweats and fever can be seen. However, the average life expectancy at the onset of full-blown AIDS is only two years; opportunistic infections occur and malignant tumors can develop.

Complications

HIV infection is associated with many complications. On the one hand, the thought of suffering from an HIV infection is a heavy burden for those affected, since it cannot be cured according to the current medical status. This can lead to depression. This, in turn, can cause low self-esteem and can be associated with sleep disorders, fatigue and a drop in performance.

In some cases, addictive behavior towards alcohol and drugs is increased, which can have serious consequences. In the worst cases, people may have suicidal thoughts, which they then carry out. Furthermore, if left untreated, HIV infection can spread and end-stage AIDS can develop.

Those affected are very susceptible to infections and other diseases, so that they get sick more quickly. More unusual diseases such as a fungal disease (e.g. candida thrush) or atypical pneumonia are now occurring more frequently. Harmless infections, which normally heal spontaneously in healthy people, are life-threatening for the AIDS patient.

Rare tumor diseases such as Kaposi’s sarcoma can occur primarily in AIDS patients. Life expectancy is also lower. AIDS sufferers have an additional life expectancy of ten years with therapy, and only one year without therapy. There is also a risk that people infected with HIV can infect other people if they engage in unprotected sexual intercourse.

When should you go to the doctor?

Since an HIV infection can, in the worst case, lead to the death of the person concerned, this disease must always be examined by a doctor. Although direct treatment is not possible, visits and regular check-ups with a doctor are very useful. As a rule, permanent tiredness and exhaustion can indicate an HIV infection. Severe headaches or body aches also occur and are accompanied by diarrhea or vomiting.

Many patients also suffer from fever or loss of appetite as a result of the HIV infection. If these symptoms occur over a longer period of time, a visit to a doctor is necessary. Many of those affected also suffer from severe itching or a rash on the skin. The susceptibility to infection also increases significantly as a result of the HIV infection, so that those affected suffer more frequently from inflammation and infections.

Restrictions and problems with the nerves can also refer to the HIV infection. If there is a suspicion, the HIV infection can be examined by a general practitioner. Further treatment of the disease depends on the symptoms.

Treatment & Therapy

Basically, the illness with AIDS is not yet curable, the course of the HIV infection can at best be delayed. An effective therapy method is highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART for short. Here, at least three different antiretroviral drugs are combined with each other, which are supposed to inhibit the HI virus replication, whereby the immune system can be strengthened and any symptoms that occur can be reversed.

This therapy requires good cooperation from the patient. However, taking these inhibitory drugs leads to enormous side effects. With lifelong treatment, serious damage to the intestines, liver, nerves or cardiovascular system is possible.

This combination therapy sometimes has to be modified or even discontinued because of the undesirable effects that occur. It is important that the drugs used in combination therapy for the treatment of an HIV infection do not lead to resistance and can therefore no longer have an inhibiting effect.

AIDS is a multisystem disease, which means that in addition to medical treatment and counseling, psychosocial support is also very important. The social system of a patient is affected, there may be necessary changes in professional terms and social withdrawal is often the result of persistent depression, anxiety or feelings of guilt in an infected person.

Outlook & Forecast

The prognosis for HIV infection depends on when drug treatment is started after infection. Furthermore, the occurrence of other chronic diseases plays a role in the prognosis.

If left untreated, after an HIV infection it is to be expected that within 8 to 15 years the immune system of those affected will be destroyed to such an extent that AIDS will break out and death will occur as a result of the diseases that occur. This prognosis can vary greatly from individual to individual. In a few cases, the virus remains inactive for life and those affected have a barely suppressed immune system.

The prognosis with consistent antiretroviral treatment, on the other hand, is significantly better. In most cases, the outbreak of AIDS can be prevented thanks to drug combination therapy. The life expectancy of people who are 25 years old or younger at the time of starting therapy and who do not have any other diseases is not considered to be reduced.

The situation is different in cases where other diseases, such as hepatitis C or an addiction, limit the lives of those affected. Life expectancies can be reduced here by several years.

In addition, the drugs can lead to long-term damage to the kidneys, for example, or to the distribution of fat. However, these consequences can be easily controlled by switching medications in good time. Overall, however, the prognosis for an HIV infection is good and, due to new drugs, it is also to be expected that the side effects will be less severe.

Aftercare

According to the current state of science, HIV cannot be cured. Those affected must therefore cope with the consequences for the rest of their lives. Follow-up care aims to prevent the transition to AIDS and alleviate any symptoms. In addition to personal responsibility, which is maintained, among other things, by protected sexual intercourse, medical support is necessary.

Since there is a combination of remedies, regular follow-up examinations are indicated. The current status is mainly determined by blood tests. Changes in medication are not uncommon. It is not uncommon for patients to report side effects. The active ingredients inhibit the viruses from docking to the immune cells, block certain virus enzymes or have a disruptive effect on another enzyme.

Entry inhibitors, integrase inhibitors, protease inhibitors and reverse transcriptase inhibitors are suitable, for example. It seems problematic that after some time the HI virus mutates. This requires close monitoring. Patients should strictly follow the suggested rhythm of the attending physician.

If acute symptoms occur, a general practitioner should be consulted immediately in view of the permanent weakening of the body. In the social area, the immediate environment should be informed about the disease. Agreements for the outbreak of AIDS are important. Sometimes an HIV infection also leads to existential fears. Psychological or pastoral support may be necessary.

You can do that yourself

Infection with HIV usually represents a psychological burden for those affected, which is particularly noticeable immediately after diagnosis. The possibilities for those affected to live better with their illness – i.e. the actual infection – in everyday life are nevertheless rendered unnecessary by drug therapy. HIV-positive people do not have to make any drastic lifestyle changes if they take good medication.

Rather, self-help measures are concerned with finding out everything worth knowing about the disease, understanding the therapy and its effects, and thus regaining the feeling of control. After all, an infection with HIV is no longer a death sentence. Self-help groups, AIDS organizations and similar organizations are available in many cities for the purpose of obtaining information and exchanging information.

Affected people often have to rebuild their good attitude towards life. The environment must also be included, with HIV-positive people having to decide for themselves who will find out about the infection and who will not. It cannot be ruled out that unpleasant situations can be triggered in everyday life that arise from ignorance or prejudices of others. Raising awareness and dealing with the situation confidently can help.

However, to generally strengthen the immune system, a healthy and balanced diet should be eaten – especially if minor illnesses occur frequently. Sport also strengthens and can be positive for the psyche at the same time.

HIV Infection