Symptoms of HIV

Symptoms of HIV can be hidden unknowingly for years before they are discovered.

HIV or AIDS is a very sensitive topic. Someone might have the virus but never discover it until it is too late. So, it is important to know what these HIV or AIDS symptoms are.  Let’s us first be oriented on the facts behind Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

Transmission of HIV

HIV is transmitted through body fluids that contain virions and infected CD4+ T cells. What are these fluids? They include the blood, seminal fluid, vaginal secretions, amniotic fluid and breast milk. When there is inflammation or breaks in the skin or mucosa, one becomes more susceptible to HIV. HIV may be transmitted at the time of delivery (Mother-to-child transmission), through breast feeding, sexual contact, blood transfusion and needle pricks. But it can never be acquired through casual contact or even through kissing.

Blood transfusions can also be a mode of transmission. However this risk is reduced since it has been virtually eliminated through voluntary self-deferral, completion of a detailed health history, extensive testing, heat treatment of clotting factor concentrates, and other effective inactivation methods for viruses.

Population at Risk for HIV or AIDS

Older adults are at risk for HIV infection. These factors predispose people to HIV:
1. Unprotected sexual activity, especially if with multiple or random partners
2. Use of illegal injected or intravenous drugs
3. Presence or history of other sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia (See: STD symptoms)
4. Have received blood transfusions before 1985
5. Aging and a compromised immune system

These factors make one vulnerable to infections, but most of them are behavioral in nature. By avoiding these risk factors, you can easily eliminate the chances of getting infected by  HIV.

Stages of HIV Disease and AIDS symptoms

Through clinical history, physical examination, laboratory evidence of immune dysfunction, signs and symptoms, infections and malignancies, the stages of HIV disease are determined. The Centers for Disease Control’s standard case definition of AIDS categorizes HIV infection and AIDS in adults and adolescents on the basis of clinical conditions associated with HIV infection and CD4+ T-cell counts. They are classified into three categories.

A. Primary Infection (Acute HIV Infection/Syndrome)
This is the period from HIV infection to the development of HIV-specific antibodies. However, there is also a window period during which an HIV positive person tests negative on HIV antibody blood test despite her/his being highly infectious.

Primary infection is characterized by high levels of viral replication, widespread dissemination of HIV throughout the body and destruction of CD4+ T cells.

This stage includes the acute symptomatic and early infection phases. In this stage, an estimate of 40% to 90% of patients experience symptoms like fever, pharyngitis, lymphadenopathy, skin rashes and other conditions.

B. HIV Asymptomatic (CDC Category A)
HIV positive people enter into a chronic stage wherein the immune system cannot eliminate the virus despite its best efforts. This set point varies from patient to patient and it determines the rate of disease progression. In this prolonged and chronic stage, the patients feel well and have very few symptoms.

C. HIV Symptomatic (CDC Category B)
The number of CD4+T cells falls gradually over time. Symptomatic conditions present in this category are not found in Category C, given that the condition is caused by HIV infection and that the condition is considered to have a clinical course.

D. AIDS (CDC Category C)
When the CD4+T cell levels drop below 200 cells per cube millimeter of blood, the person is said to have AIDS. If it is lower, the immune system is impaired. If a person is in Category C, he or she remains in the category even if CD4+T cells rebound with treatment. Weakness is a clear and indicative symptoms of AIDS.

Assessment and Diagnostics for HIV

1. HIV antibody tests – HIV screening is recommended for patients 18-64 years of age in all health care settings. People who are at high risk should be screened annually. Results and implementation of this test is done privately and with patient’s consent. Two examples of this test are the EIA (enzyme immunoassay) which identifies antibodies directed specifically against HIV and the Western Blot Assay which is used to confirm seropositivity when EIA result is positive.

2. Viral Load Tests – These tests measure HIV RNA levels to track viral load and response to treatment of HIV infection. Example is RT-PCR or Reverse Transcriptase-Polymerase Chain Reaction which is used to detect HIV in high-risk seronegative people before antibodies are measurable. It is also used to confirm positive EIA result and to screen neonates.

Symptoms of HIV and AIDS

Patients with HIV/AIDS experience a number of symptoms related to the disease, side effects of treatments, and even other illnesses like hepatitis. Fatigue (See: Chronic Fatigue Symptoms) is the most common HIV or AIDS symptoms, but the symptoms of HIV is also widespread and it may affect any organ in the body system.

Respiratory manifestations include shortness of breath, labored breathing, cough, chest pain and fever associated with opportunistic infections such as Legionella species and P. jiroveci. Pnemocystis Pneumonia is also very common in people with AIDS. In HIV-negative people with latent tuberculosis infection, there is a lifetime risk of developing active TB disease in 5%-10%, and with HIV-positive people with latent TB, annual risk is 10%.

Gastrointestinal manifestations of AIDS include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, oral candidiasis (fungal infection characterized by creamy-white patches in the oral cavity), diarrhea, and wasting syndrome, which is part of the Category C definition (characterized by chronic diarrhea for 30 days, chronic weakness, and intermittent/constant fever).

Certain types of cancers also occur in people with AIDS symptoms, of which their presence in any person with HIV is a clear indication that AIDS has developed. These include Kaposi’s sarcoma, lymphoma and invasive cervical cancer (See: cervical cancer symptoms).

Cutaneous manifestations are also present. These include herpes zoster and herpes simplex viruses which cause painful vesicles disrupting the skin integrity, and atopic dermatitis where the skin becomes dry and flaky.

Gynecologicaly, persistent and recurrent vaginal candidiasis is the first sign of HIV infection in women. Women with HIV infections are also susceptible to genital ulcers and venereal warts.

People use a variety of self care remedies to minimize the symptoms of HIV, but the best solution always comes with professional health care.

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