What is AIDS?
A health article about AIDS fromYour Health Online the A to Z directory of dealing with Health Problems & nutritional Self Care Strategies
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a serious condition that affects the body's ability to fight off infection.
AIDS is a disease, as the name suggests, in which the person over a period of time loses his power of immunity to fight infections and hence he is a prey to a host of infections which otherwise wont have occurred. The causative organism is a virus called the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
On gaining entry into the body of a subject through another patient’s body fluids such as blood, blood products, semen, etc. the virus remains in the lymphatic system and gets replicated. Then over a period of years it reduces the body’s immune system.
A diagnosis of AIDS is made when a person develops some form of life-threatening illness not usually found in a person with a normal ability to fight infection. To date more that fifty percent of all the persons with AIDS have died.
The three main transmission routes of HIV are sexual contact, exposure to infected body fluids or tissues, and from mother to fetus or child during perinatal period. It is possible to find HIV in the saliva, tears, and urine of infected individuals, but there are no recorded cases of infection by these secretions, and the risk of infection is negligible
Signs & Symptoms
Most individuals infected with the AIDS virus have no symptoms and feel well for a long time before eventually developing such symptoms as fever and night sweats, weight loss, swollen lymph glands in the neck, the underarms and groin area, sever fatigue or tiredness, diarrhea, white spots or unusual blemishes in the mouth.
These symptoms are also symptoms of a number of other illnesses and that should be taken into consideration. Anyone with any of these symptoms for more than two weeks should not panic buy should consult their doctor.
The symptoms of AIDS are primarily the result of conditions that do not normally develop in individuals with healthy immune systems. Most of these conditions are infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that are normally controlled by the elements of the immune system that HIV damages. Opportunistic infections are common in people with AIDS.
HIV affects nearly every organ system. People with AIDS also have an increased risk of developing various cancers such as Kaposi's sarcoma, cervical cancer and cancers of the immune system known as lymphomas.
Additionally, people with AIDS often have systemic symptoms of infection like fevers, sweats (particularly at night), swollen glands, chills, weakness, and weight loss.
After the diagnosis of AIDS is made, the current average survival time with antiretroviral therapy (as of 2005) is estimated to be more than 5 years, but because new treatments continue to be developed and because HIV continues to evolve resistance to treatments, estimates of survival time are likely to continue to change.
Without antiretroviral therapy, death normally occurs within a year. Most patients die from opportunistic infections or malignancies associated with the progressive failure of the immune system.
In addition to AIDS-defining tumors, HIV-infected patients are at increased risk of certain other tumors, such as Hodgkin's disease and anal and rectal carcinomas. However, the incidence of many common tumors, such as breast cancer or colon cancer, does not increase in HIV-infected patients. In areas where HAART is extensively used to treat AIDS, the incidence of many AIDS-related malignancies has decreased, but at the same time malignant cancers overall have become the most common cause of death of HIV-infected patients.
Other opportunistic infections
AIDS patients often develop opportunistic infections that present with non-specific symptoms, especially low-grade fevers and weight loss. These include infection with Mycobacterium avium-intracellulare and cytomegalovirus (CMV). CMV can cause colitis, as described above, and CMV retinitis can cause blindness.
Penicilliosis due to Penicillium marneffei is now the third most common opportunistic infection (after extrapulmonary tuberculosis and cryptococcosis) in HIV-positive individuals within the endemic area of Southeast Asia.
Types of AIDS
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
(AIDS or Aids) is a collection of symptoms and infections resulting from the specific damage to the immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in humans, and similar viruses in other species (SIV, FIV, etc.). The late stage of the condition leaves individuals susceptible to opportunistic infections and tumors.
Although treatments for AIDS and HIV exist to decelerate the virus' progression, there is currently no known cure. HIV, et al., are transmitted through direct contact of a mucous membrane or the bloodstream with a bodily fluid containing HIV, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, preseminal fluid, and breast milk.
This transmission can come in the form of anal, vaginal or oral sex, blood transfusion, contaminated hypodermic needles, exchange between mother and baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding, or other exposure to one of the above bodily fluids.
What Causes AIDS?
The AIDS virus is not spread through normal daily contact at work, school or home. There have been no cases found where the virus has been transmitted by casual contact with AIDS patients in the home, workplace, or health care setting.
There is an antibody test that detects antibodies to the AIDS virus that causes the disease. The body produces antibodies that try to get rid of bacteria, viruses, or anything else that is not supposed to be in the bloodstream.
The test may show if someone has been infected with the AIDS virus. While the testing procedure is considered accurate, it does not tell who will develop full-blown AIDS.
Most researchers believe that HIV originated in sub-Saharan Africa during the twentieth century; it is now a pandemic, with an estimated 33.2 million people now living with the disease worldwide. As of January 2006, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since it was first recognized on June 5, 1981, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history.
In 2005 alone, AIDS claimed an estimated 2.4–3.3 million lives, of which more than 570,000 were children. A third of these deaths are occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, retarding economic growth and destroying human capital. Antiretroviral treatment reduces both the mortality and the morbidity of HIV infection, but routine access to antiretroviral medication is not available in all countries. HIV/AIDS stigma is more severe than that associated with other life-threatening conditions and extends beyond the disease itself to providers and even volunteers involved with the care of people living with HIV.
The two groups at greatest risk for AIDS are homosexual or bisexual men and people who shoot drugs. People who use needles to inject drugs (including mainliners and skin poppers) get the virus by sharing their works with other users who already have the AIDS virus in their blood.
You can't always tell who is infected with the AIDS virus. Most people actually carrying the virus don't look any different than anybody else, they look and feel well, but they can still spread the disease. Symptoms of AIDS may not show up for many years and some remain without symptoms even then. Thousands of IV drug abusers already have AIDS, and many thousands more are carriers of the virus.
Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT)
The transmission of the virus from the mother to the child can occur in utero during the last weeks of pregnancy and at childbirth. In the absence of treatment, the transmission rate between the mother to the child during pregnancy, labor and delivery is 25%. However, when the mother has access to antiretroviral therapy and gives birth by caesarean section, the rate of transmission is just 1%.
A number of factors influence the risk of infection, particularly the viral load of the mother at birth (the higher the viral load, the higher the risk). Breastfeeding increases the risk of transmission by 10–15%. This risk depends on clinical factors and may vary according to the pattern and duration of breast-feeding.
AIDS is the most severe acceleration of infection with HIV. HIV is a retrovirus that primarily infects vital organs of the human immune system such as CD4+ T cells (a subset of T cells), macrophages and dendritic cells. It directly and indirectly destroys CD4+ T cells
CD4+ T cells are required for the proper functioning of the immune system. When HIV kills CD4+ T cells so that there are fewer than 200 CD4+ T cells per microliter (µL) of blood, cellular immunity is lost.
In some countries, such as the United States, this leads to a diagnosis of AIDS. In other jurisdictions, such as in Canada, AIDS is only diagnosed when a person infected with HIV is diagnosed with one or more of several AIDS-related opportunistic infections or cancers
Acute HIV infection progresses over time to clinical latent HIV infection and then to early symptomatic HIV infection and later to AIDS, which is identified either on the basis of the amount of CD4+ T cells in the blood, and/or the presence of certain infections, as noted above.
In the absence of antiretroviral therapy, the median time of progression from HIV infection to AIDS is nine to ten years, and the median survival time after developing AIDS is only 9.2 months.
However, the rate of clinical disease progression varies widely between individuals, from two weeks up to 20 years.
Many factors affect the rate of progression. These include factors that influence the body's ability to defend against HIV such as the infected person's general immune function.
Older people have weaker immune systems, and therefore have a greater risk of rapid disease progression than younger people.
Poor access to health care and the existence of coexisting infections such as tuberculosis also may predispose people to faster disease progression. The infected person's genetic inheritance plays an important role and some people are resistant to certain strains of HIV.
Shooting drugs has now been determined to be one of the biggest problems facing America today. While the homosexual community has put on a media campaign alerting and educating the public about the dangers of AIDS, nothing is being done to stop the widespread sharing of needles among drug users.
Remember, if you shoot drugs, you are in danger of catching AIDS. The best advice for protecting yourself and people you love is to stop shooting drugs. It is also important to note that women who shoot drugs or who live with men who shoot drugs sometimes gives AIDS to their babies, either before or shortly after birth. Babies born with AIDS become ill very quickly.
With consistent and crrect use of condoms, there is a very low risk of HIV infection.
Studies on couples where one partner is infected show that with consistent condom use, HIV infection rates for the uninfected partner are below 1% per year.
The United States government and health organizations both endorse the ABC Approach to lower the risk of acquiring AIDS during sex:
• Abstinence or delay of sexual activity, especially for youth,
• Being faithful, especially for those in committed relationships,
• Condom use, for those who engage in risky behavior.
This approach has been very successful in Uganda, where HIV prevalence has decreased from 15% to 5%. However, more has been done than just this. As Edward Green, a Harvard medical anthropologist, put it, "Uganda has pioneered approaches towards reducing stigma, bringing discussion of sexual behavior out into the open, involving HIV-infected people in public education, persuading individuals and couples to be tested and counseled, improving the status of women, involving religious organizations, enlisting traditional healers, and much more."
However, criticism of the ABC approach is widespread because a faithful partner of an unfaithful partner is at risk of contracting HIV and that discrimination against women and girls is so great that they are without voice in almost every area of their lives.
Other programs and initiatives promote condom use more heavily. Condom use is an integral part of the CNN Approach. This is:
• Condom use, for those who engage in risky behavior,
• Needles, use clean ones,
• Negotiating skills; negotiating safer sex with a partner and empowering women to make smart choices.
This transmission route is particularly relevant to intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs and recipients of blood transfusions and blood products. Sharing and reusing syringes contaminated with HIV-infected blood represents a major risk for infection with not only HIV, but also hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Needle sharing is the cause of one third of all new HIV-infections and 50% of hepatitis C infections in North America, China, and Eastern Europe. The risk of being infected with HIV from a single prick with a needle that has been used on an HIV-infected person is thought to be about 1 in 150
Post-exposure prophylaxis with anti-HIV drugs can further reduce that small risk. Health care workers (nurses, laboratory workers, doctors etc) are also concerned, although more rarely. This route can affect people who give and receive tattoos and piercings.
All AIDS-prevention organizations advise drug-users not to share needles and other material required to prepare and take drugs (including syringes, cotton balls, the spoons, water for diluting the drug, straws, crack pipes, etc).
It is important that people use new or properly sterilized needles for each injection. Information on cleaning needles using bleach is available from health care and addiction professionals and from needle exchanges.
Studies have shown that antiretroviral drugs, caesarean delivery and formula feeding reduce the chance of transmission of HIV from mother to child. Current recommendations state that when replacement feeding is acceptable, feasible, affordable, sustainable and safe, HIV-infected mothers should avoid breast-feeding their infant.
However, if this is not the case, exclusive breast-feeding is recommended during the first months of life and discontinued as soon as possible. In 2005, around 700,000 children under 15 contracted HIV, mainly through MTCT, with 630,000 of these infections occurring in Africa. Of the children currently living with HIV, 2 million (almost 90%) live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Prevention strategies are well known in developed countries, however, recent epidemiological and behavioral studies in Europe and North America have suggested that a substantial minority of young people continue to engage in high-risk practices and that despite HIV/AIDS knowledge, young people underestimate their own risk of becoming infected with HIV
However, transmission of HIV between intravenous drug users has clearly decreased, and HIV transmission by blood transfusion has become quite rare in developed countries.
When to seek Medical Advice:
An HIV infection can be detected through a blood test, because the antibodies created by the body to fight off the virus can be seen under a microscope. It takes at least three weeks for the antibodies to be produced and in some cases as long as six months before they can be picked up during a screening test.
If you think you may have run a risk, you should discuss the appropriateness of a test with your doctor. It's always better to know if you are infected so as to be able to avoid infecting others, to obtain early treatment of symptoms, and to make realistic plans.
If you know someone with AIDS, you should give them all the support you can (there's no danger in such contact unless blood is present).
Many people are unaware that they are infected with HIV. Less than 1% of the sexually active urban population in Africa has been tested, and this proportion is even lower in rural populations. Furthermore, only 0.5% of pregnant women attending urban health facilities
are counseled, tested or receive their test results.
Again, this proportion is even lower in rural health facilities. Therefore, donor blood and blood products used in medicine and medical research are screened for HIV. Typical HIV tests, including the HIV enzyme immunoassay and the Western blot assay, detect HIV antibodies in serum, plasma, oral fluid, dried blood spot or urine of patients.
However, the window period (the time between initial infection and the development of detectable antibodies against the infection) can vary. This is why it can take 3–6 months to seroconvert and test positive.
Commercially available tests to detect other HIV antigens, HIV-RNA, and HIV-DNA in order to detect HIV infection prior to the development of detectable antibodies are available. For the diagnosis of HIV infection these assays are not specifically approved, but are nonetheless routinely used in developed countries.
Stages of AIDS
• Stage I: HIV infection is asymptomatic and not categorized as AIDS
• Stage II: includes minor mucocutaneous manifestations and recurrent upper respiratory tract infections
• Stage III: includes unexplained chronic diarrhea for longer than a month, severe bacterial infections and pulmonary tuberculosis
• Stage IV: includes toxoplasmosis of the brain, candidiasis of the esophagus, trachea, bronchi or lungs and Kaposi's sarcoma; these diseases are indicators of AIDS.
There is currently no vaccine or cure for HIV or AIDS. The only known methods of prevention are based on avoiding exposure to the virus or, failing that, an antiretroviral treatment directly after a highly significant exposure, called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP has a very demanding four week schedule of dosage. It also has very unpleasant side effects including diarrhea, malaise, nausea and fatigue.
Current treatment for HIV infection consists of highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART. This has been highly beneficial to many HIV-infected individuals since its introduction in 1996 when the protease inhibitor-based HAART initially became available. Current optimal HAART options consist of combinations (or "cocktails") consisting of at least three drugs belonging to at least two types, or "classes," of anti-retroviral agents.
The development of HAART as effective therapy for HIV infection and AIDS has substantially reduced the death rate from this disease in those areas where it is widely available. This has created the misperception that the disease has gone away.
In fact, as the life expectancy of persons with AIDS has increased in countries where HAART is widely used, the number of persons living with AIDS has increased substantially. In the United States, the number of persons with AIDS increased from about 35,000 in 1988 to over 220,000 in 1996.
Typical regimens consist of two nucleoside analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NARTIs or NRTIs) plus either a protease inhibitor or a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI). Because HIV disease progression in children is more rapid than in adults, and laboratory parameters are less predictive of risk for disease progression, particularly for young infants, treatment recommendations are more aggressive for children than for adults
In developed countries where HAART is available, doctors assess the viral load, rapidity in CD4 decline, and patient readiness while deciding when to recommend initiating treatment.
Daily multivitamin and mineral supplements have been found to reduce HIV disease progression among men and women. This could become an important low-cost intervention provided during early HIV disease to prolong the time before antiretroviral therapy is required. Some individual nutrients have also been tried. Anti-retroviral drugs are expensive, and the majority of the world's infected individuals do not have access to medications and treatments for HIV and AIDS.
It has been postulated that only a vaccine can halt the pandemic because a vaccine would possibly cost less, thus being affordable for developing countries, and would not require daily treatments. However, after over 20 years of research, HIV-1 remains a difficult target for a vaccine.
Research to improve current treatments includes decreasing side effects of current drugs, further simplifying drug regimens to improve adherence, and determining the best sequence of regimens to manage drug resistance. A number of studies have shown that measures to prevent opportunistic infections can be beneficial when treating patients with HIV infection or AIDS.
Vaccination against hepatitis A and B is advised for patients who are not infected with these viruses and are at risk of becoming infected. Patients with substantial immunosuppression are also advised to receive prophylactic therapy for Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (PCP), and many patients may benefit from prophylactic therapy for toxoplasmosis and Cryptococcus meningitis as well.
Various forms of alternative medicine have been tried to treat symptoms or alter the course of the disease. In the first decade of the epidemic when no useful conventional treatment was available, a large number of people with AIDS experimented with alternative therapies
The definition of "alternative therapies" in AIDS has changed since that time. Then, the phrase often referred to community-driven treatments, untested by government or pharmaceutical company research, that some hoped would directly suppress the virus or stimulate immunity against it.
Examples of alternative medicine that people hoped would improve their symptoms or their quality of life include massage, stress management, herbal and flower remedies such as boxwood, and acupuncture; when used with conventional treatment, many now refer to these as "complementary" approaches. Despite the widespread use of complementary and alternative medicine by people living with HIV/AIDS, the effectiveness of these therapies has not been established.
Self Care strategies for Living with AIDS
Due both to the stigma and the awareness program attached with it, now AIDS has become a common household term.
Because of the morbidity and mortality attached and also because of the ignorance about it there are lots and lots of myths against this deadly disease. This alone shows the anxiety and concern of the general mass.
AIDS stigma has been further divided into the following three categories:
1. Instrumental AIDS stigma—a reflection of the fear and apprehension that are likely to be associated with any deadly and transmissible illness.
2. Symbolic AIDS stigma—the use of HIV/AIDS to express attitudes toward the social groups or lifestyles perceived to be associated with the disease.
3. Courtesy AIDS stigma—stigmatization of people connected to the issue of HIV/AIDS or HIV- positive people.
Often, AIDS stigma is expressed in conjunction with one or more other stigmas, particularly those associated with homosexuality, bisexuality, promiscuity, and intravenous drug use.
In many developed countries, there is an association between AIDS and homosexuality or bisexuality, and this association is correlated with higher levels of sexual prejudice such as anti-homosexual attitudes. There is also a perceived association between AIDS and all male-male sexual behavior, including sex between uninfected men.
Those most likely to hold misconceptions about HIV transmission and to harbor HIV/AIDS stigma are less educated people and people with high levels of religiosity or conservative political ideology
HIV lives in white blood cells and is present in the sexual fluids of humans. It's difficult to catch and is spread mostly through sexual intercourse, by needle or syringe sharing among intravenous drug users, in blood transfusions, and during pregnancy and birth (if the mother is infected).
Using another person's razor blade or having your body pierced or tattooed are also risky, but the HIV virus cannot be transmitted by shaking hands, kissing, cuddling, fondling, sneezing, cooking food, or sharing eating or drinking utensils.
One cannot be infected by saliva, sweat, tears, urine, or feces; toilet seats, telephones, swimming pools, or mosquito bites do not cause AIDS.
Ostracizing a known AIDS victim is not only immoral but also absurd.
Most blood banks now screen their products for HIV, and you can protect yourself against dirty needles by only allowing an injection if you see the syringe taken out of a fresh unopened pack.
A woman runs 10 times the risk of contracting AIDS from a man than the other way around, and the threat is always greater when another sexually transmitted disease (STD) is present.
The disease is managed by a whole lot of drugs because of the inability of the scientists to develop a vaccine against it. The drugs against it are basically divided into two types.
One type prevents against the possible development of the potential bacterial, viral and helminthic infections and the other group helps in the killing and preventing replication of HIV.
The first group has drugs such as trimethoprim sulfamethoxazole, clarithromycin, amphotericin, fluconazole, etc. The latter group has antiviral drugs such as zidovudine, didanosine, saquinavir, indinavir, enfuvirtide, etc.
Adherence to universal precautions meaning that every body fluid from a patient is considered to be infected from HIV until proven otherwise should be practiced.
The very existence of AIDS calls for a basic change in human behavior. No vaccine or drug exists that can prevent or cure AIDS, and because the virus mutates frequently, no remedy may ever be totally effective.
Other STDs such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B, and herpes are far more common than AIDS and can lead to serious complications such as infertility, but at least they can usually be cured.
You should always practice safe sex to prevent AIDS and other STDs. You never know who is infected or even if you yourself have become infected. It's important to bring the subject up before you start to make love. Make a joke out of it by pulling out a condom and asking your new partner, "Say, do you know what this is?" Or perhaps, "Your condom or mine?"
Far from being unromantic or embarrassing, you'll both feel more relaxed with the subject off your minds, and it's much better than worrying afterwards if you might have been infected. The golden rule is safe sex or no sex.
Diet change strategies:
As we noted above here: Daily multivitamin and mineral supplements have been found to reduce HIV disease progression among men and women. This could become an important low-cost intervention provided during early HIV disease to prolong the time before antiretroviral therapy is required. Some individual nutrients have also been tried.
Vitamin & Nutrient Associations
There are natural herbal based nutrition products that can help to build up immunity levels and strengthen the system from other related illnesses that are characterized by AIDS weakening of the immune system.
This problem, like so many others, indicates that your body system is working to deal with underlying problems.
This may be a build up of toxins and poisons in your system and the symptoms you are experiencing is part of your bodies attempts to deal with them.
You may find benefit from our information on Detoxifying through change of diet.
It may be due to difficulties with your digestive system that is causing your body to be starved of key nutrients, vitamins or minerals.
It may be that your metabolism has slowed due to pressures that have been placed on your system through life in general or through specific “challenges” you have faced in the last few months or last few years.
Review this by looking at our article about balancing your Metabolic Rate.
Further reading through our articles on health issues will give you a body of information that will help you decide what options you have to deal with the underlying causes of your AIDS problem through giving your body the nutrition products that will assist you body to heal from the inside out.
We wish you well in your search for solutions to this problem and your movement towards better health in all areas.
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