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Aids and Hiv
AIDS is a prevalent condition in the world right now. In many societies, this serious condition is often not talked about and is considered a taboo which has unknowingly led to its rapid spread around the globe. People often confuse AIDS and HIV for the same thing and hence use these terms interchangeably. However, they are not, although they are closely related. Through the following sections, we attempt to clear this confusion and provide insights into the various aspects of this medical condition in detail.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome and is a serious medical condition. It comprises various diseases that affect the body because HIV lowers the body’s mechanism to defend itself from other infections.
What is HIV?
A virus is a tiny organism that is usually infectious. A characteristic feature of viruses is that they are able to replicate inside living cells of other organisms. HIV infects the human immune cells or commonly called the white blood cells (specifically the Helper T Cells).
HIV is the acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and comes under a class of viruses commonly called retroviruses. This is the causative organism for AIDS. This virus enters our body, attacks the immune system and hence makes us weak.
A peculiar and dangerous feature of this syndrome is that many people do not develop any symptoms when they are initially infected by HIV. However, some people may develop initial symptoms such as fever, tiredness, nausea and other flu-like illnesses.
The more severe symptoms that we usually know may not surface for several years since infection. This is because, during this asymptomatic stage, the virus is actively multiplying in the body, destroying the cells of our immune system. The severe symptoms may include.
Constant feeling of lack of energy and feeling tired. It may be accompanied by headache, fatigue and dizziness.
Rapid weight loss for unknown reasons and shortness of breath.
Swelling may be observed in the throat, and groin region.
Sustained periods of dry coughs.
Loss of muscular strength, feeling of numbness throughout the body etc.
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The most widespread way to get infected is to have unprotected sex with an infected individual.
HIV commonly spreads through certain body fluids like blood, vaginal fluids, semen etc the HIV-infected person comes into contact with the mucosal membrane like mouth, genitals etc of an uninfected individual.
Another way to get infected is by injecting the virus into the body by the usage of contaminated needles. This is commonly observed when individuals share syringes with an infected person for uptake of drugs etc.
It is essential to mention that this virus is not very contagious on its own i.e. it cannot spread easily through common passageways like air, water etc. It does not spread by hugging, sneezing, saliva, sweat or staying around infected individuals. It is also not spread by common vectors like mosquitoes.
HIV Infection: Progression
An untreated, infected individual may come across three stages during the infection −.
This starts immediately after the virus enters the body for the first time. It infects the CD4 cells in the body and rapidly multiplies. In a few weeks, the infection starts showing initial symptoms like headache, and fever and people may feel like they have gotten the flu. During this point, the immune system is working at its maximum capacity defending against the virus and producing HIV antibodies.
This stage is also referred to as the clinical latency stage. Similar to the name, it is a stage without any visible symptoms. The immune system after the initial stage has come into equilibrium with the virus and the infection is partly moderated. However, slowly and steadily, the virus continues to kill CD4 cells making one immunodeficient.
Is AIDS the last stage
This stage is marked by the weakening of the immune system as it can no longer defend the body from apparent infection due to other organisms. This is the last stage of HIV infection.
Which group of people are at high risk of getting infected with HIV?
The following people have an increased risk to get infected.
Any individual with multiple sexual partners and having unprotected sex.
Drug addicts who are involved in intravenous drug intake.
Individuals who require repeated blood transfusions etc.
Diagnostic Test for AIDS
Two tests are generally needed to diagnose HIV infection- one that looks for the HIV-specific antibody presence in the body and the other that probes for the virus itself.
Detection of AIDS by ELISA Test
ELISA is the acronym for Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay and is a method to detect the infection by HIV. It searches for certain proteins that the body generates in response to the infection.
The blood sample is added to a cassette that already has a pre-made viral protein, the antigen. If the blood contains viral antibodies, it binds with the antigen causing the cassette’s content to change its visual appearance.
Western Blot Assay
This test is used to confirm the results produced by ELISA. Under this test, the proteins in the blood sample are separated using an electric current and then transferred to a blotting paper. Finally, an enzyme is added to the paper and any changes in the visual appearance indicate the presence of HIV antibodies.
Process of Infection by HIV
Once HIV enters the body of the individual, it identifies and attaches itself to a lymphocyte called CD4 which are essentially the main fighting cells of the immune system.
After the attachment, the virus injects its RNA into the cell. Retroviruses have a peculiar feature, in that they can synthesise DNA from RNA using a special enzyme called reverse transcriptase.
The viral DNA gets attached to the cellular DNA of the lymphocyte and integrates itself as the cell’s genetic material.
Using the cell’s replicating mechanism, the virus now produces hundreds of its own copies which then enter the blood to infect other CD4 cells.
Eventually, the number of CD4 cells declines and the body becomes immunodeficient.
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AIDS: Preventive Measures
To avoid getting infected by HIV, one must avoid contaminated body fluids from accessing the body through the mouth, nose, and genitals. This can be done by the practice of safe sex and proper drug usage which means.
Prefer using a condom.
Avoid sharing intravenous needles.
The risk of HIV transmission from a mother to her baby is highly reduced if the mother is given AZT antiviral drug during pregnancy.
HIV is a retrovirus that causes one of the most dreaded diseases known to mankind called AIDS. This condition cannot be cured as of now. The virus attacks the CD4 lymphocytes of the human body, reducing them in number so that the body is unable to defend itself from other infections leading to apparent death. The article discusses various stages and processes of infection, how it is diagnosed and what can be done to ensure its prevention.
Q1. What is a syndrome?
It is often characterised as a group of related symptoms that may be associated with a certain disease.
Q2. What is the difference between antigen and antibody?
Antigens are foreign molecules that are capable of causing an infection in the body. They are commonly found in pathogens.
Antibodies are immunoglobulins that are produced by the immune system to act against specific antigens.
Q3. What is the difference between chronic and acute diseases?
Acute diseases generally last for a few days and do not have a permanent effect on the body. Examples include the common cold. Chronic diseases last for a very long time and have major negative impacts on the body. Example- Tuberculosis etc.
Q4. How does one treat AIDS?
Antiretroviral therapy also called ART can be considered medicine to treat AIDS although it is not a cure. It is a mixture of 3 different medications. It increases the lifespan of the infected individual.
Q5. Give some examples of HIV medications?
A few examples include ATV, RTV, DRV, NFV etc. These drugs help in blocking a protein that infected cells require to synthesise a new HIV particle.
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