Supporting Someone Living with HIV / AIDS
Today it is difficult to meet a person who has not heard about HIV and AIDS. Most, however, are sure that this problem does not concern them and will never affect them. For such confidence to be justified, to be able to reliably protect yourself and your loved ones, you need to know what HIV infection is today, in the 21st century.
What is HIV?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is one of the most dangerous viruses for humans. It affects the immune system, the main task of which is to protect our body from infections.
A few weeks after infection, the symptoms of the disease develop – high temperature, enlarged lymph nodes, a sore throat, red spots on the skin, diarrhea. The incomprehensible malaise quickly passes, and sometimes the mild symptoms of the disease remain unmarked at all.
For several years the virus leads a “quiet” life, not “annoying” a person. But all this time, it tirelessly destroys the immune system, multiplying at the expense of its main cells – lymphocytes. Externally, HIV infection can manifest itself only by an increase in lymph nodes.
What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is the final and most severe stage in the development of HIV infection. The devastating effect that HIV has on the human immune system for several years leads to the development of immunodeficiency. This means that any infections, viruses and diseases no longer meet “rebuff” on their way, and the body is no longer able to fight them. A person with AIDS develops many serious illnesses, from which he or she eventually dies.
Is there a cure for AIDS?
The average life expectancy of an HIV-infected person is 5-10 years (in the absence of treatment). And although a “miraculous” vaccine against HIV and AIDS has not yet been found, research in this direction is progressing rapidly and quite successfully. Today, there are drugs that suppress the multiplication of the virus, prevent the disease from progressing and prevent the transition of HIV infection to the AIDS stage. Many patients who started treatment 15 years ago, when these drugs were discovered, still feel quite good today. The attending physicians give very optimistic forecasts about their life expectancy.
Who is at risk of HIV infection?
It is widely believed in society that the main “providers” of HIV are people who practice risky lifestyles: men with non-traditional sexual orientations, injecting drug users, and persons who have promiscuous sex lives.
However, the face of the HIV epidemic has changed dramatically in recent years. In the whole world, the heterosexual route of HIV transmission has become predominant.
The number of injecting drug users and people with non-traditional sexual orientation among the infected is decreasing, but the number of those infected through heterosexual contacts is increasing. The number of HIV-infected women is growing alarmingly rapidly. As a result, there is a sharp increase in the number of children born to HIV-infected mothers.
How is HIV infection transmitted?
An HIV-infected person has the highest concentration of the virus in the blood, lymph, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. Therefore, HIV infection can be contracted:
- during sexual intercourse without using a condom;
- using a syringe (needle, solution) used by an HIV-infected person;
- during transfusion of infected blood;
- during childbirth – the child can be infected from the mother;
- when breastfeeding a baby, if the mother is a carrier of the virus.
In tears, saliva, sweat, urine, vomit, nasal discharge, HIV is contained in a very low concentration, which is insufficient for infection.
How is HIV not transmitted?
- when shaking hands and touching;
- with a kiss;
- when using one dish;
- when coughing or sneezing;
- through bed linen or other personal items;
- when using a public toilet;
- through insect bites.
What are the main stages of HIV?
The stages of HIV are divided into:
- incubation stage. This is the stage at which infection and subsequent multiplication of the virus in the blood occurs. It lasts up to six weeks, sometimes less. Even being infected, the person will not see clear signs at this stage, and a blood test will not show that there are antibodies in the blood;
- primary stage. The first signs of infection may already appear. The second stage lasts for 3 weeks – antibodies appear during this period, the virus is determined by the laboratory;
- subclinical stage. The first sign of the disease appears – enlarged lymph nodes. The patient feels completely healthy, does not complain about the state of health;
- the development of secondary diseases. Immunity begins to malfunction, due to which a variety of diseases appear: from frequent colds and candidiasis to pneumonia, tuberculosis;
- terminal stage. The stage involves emaciation (rather rapid and progressive), as well as the subsequent death of the patient.
The stages do not have a single correct time frame – they may differ from person to person. For example, HIV-infected people often feel good for years or do not pay attention to small signs. The disease is detected only at the stage of severe deterioration of health or due to random analyzes.
How is HIV treated?
Treatment is reduced to antiretroviral therapy. The patient is given a drug intake regimen – and it must be followed as accurately as possible, without deviating from the program. Otherwise, the virus can develop resistance to treatment and resist further suppression.
Indicators of quality treatment are a decrease in viral load, as well as an increase in blood CD4 + cells, which indicates the activity of immunity.
Medicines for treatment are issued in medical institutions, patients are registered and receive drugs free of charge, in accordance with the established procedure. Disease information is confidential – it is not sent to work, school, or elsewhere. The patient has the right to keep it secret (if this is not provided for in separate work contracts).
If the rules for taking therapy are observed, the virus in the blood gradually decreases, over time the patient becomes completely safe for his/her sexual partner and is not able to infect anyone.
Who are HIV dissidents?
These are people who, contrary to scientific evidence and common sense, deny the existence of the virus. They refuse treatment, which inevitably leads to an early death. Such people are also dangerous because, due to the lack of treatment, they spread the virus among their sexual partners without warning them of the possible danger (since they do not believe that it exists).
The success of HIV treatment and long life is about seeking help and starting therapy as early as possible. In this case, a person will have a long life without fears and difficulties.
How to avoid HIV infection?
The first and foremost rule is to regularly get tested for HIV, even if you have not had suspicious contacts. It is recommended to be examined once every six months – especially since there are convenient express tests for this.
You also need to be careful about the choice of partners. You should not take the word of a person who says that he is definitely not sick – it is better to ask for the results of the study and make sure that he or she can be trusted. But remember that even contaminated blood may not give positive results for six months.
Prevention of HIV consists of the following points:
- use condoms when having sex with unstable sexual partners, as well as permanent ones (if there is no confidence that the partner is not sick or is faithful);
- do not use drugs;
- avoid promiscuous sex;
- maintain general hygiene. Avoid sharing razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, or other items that might come into contact with small wounds.
The main prevention is to be aware of the infection and always be aware of the danger of infection.
Why do I need to know if I have HIV?
- To relieve anxiety after a dangerous situation in terms of HIV infection;
- To avoid infection of your loved ones;
- To be more attentive to your health, as any disease associated with HIV infection is more severe and requires special treatment. This is especially true for sexually transmitted infections, viral hepatitis, tuberculosis and other diseases;
- To start using special drugs in time to stop the development of the disease and prevent the development of AIDS.
Early detection of the infection allows timely initiation of treatment and significantly improves the prognosis of an infected person’s life. There are lots of HIV websites that offer help and useful information.