The Complete Guide To HIV: Types, Symptoms & Preventions

The Definitive Guide To HIV: Types, Causes, Symptoms & Preventions

Contributed by: Priyaish Srivastava


Did you know?


    • HIV and AIDS are not the same. Though HIV is a virus that causes AIDS, however, not every HIV patient always have AIDS
    • In most cases, HIV occurs as a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
    • HIV is a global public health issue that accounts for around 2.1 million cases in India.
    • India is home to the world’s third-largest population of people living with HIV
    • According to a survey conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2020, the number of HIV infected people in the world stands between 30.2 million to 45.1 million
    • Although there is no cure for the condition, by taking preventive measures, an HIV infected person can lead a long and healthy life


What is HIV?

Human immunodeficiency virus or HIV is an infection that affects the functioning of the immune system by attacking and destroying the white blood cells called CD4, which makes the infected person immunodeficient. An HIV infected person is more prone to fungal infections, tuberculosis, bacteria infections, and it can even lead to the development of some types of cancer. 

The last or most advanced stage of HIV is ‘Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome’, commonly known as AIDS. The condition can give rise to severe long-term illnesses including certain cancers when the infected person does not take measures to manage HIV.

Currently, there is no cure for HIV, but the ray of hope is that those who are infected can still live longer, be healthier, and protect their partners by taking preventive measures to manage the condition.

This article will take you through the HIV related three stages & their early signs, transmission, risk factors, and essential preventive measures that can help control HIV.


Early signs and three stages of HIV

The manifestation of signs of HIV largely depends on the stage of infection. When the infection is left untreated, it gradually aggravates. Thus, to slow or obstruct the progression of HIV infection, one should seek medical assistance to administer the correct treatment and take precautionary measures. The three stages of HIV include:


Acute HIV infection


    • Infected people tend to have a high density of HIV in their blood during this stage
    • Most people are unaware of their condition until the next stage, while still being heavily infected
    • People may manifest flu-like symptoms including cough, fever, headache, rash, or sore throat
    • If you manifest flu-like symptoms and there are chances that you have been exposed to HIV, consult your healthcare provider immediately
    • Getting diagnosed is the only way to identify acute HIV infection to prevent the exacerbation of the disease


Chronic HIV infection


    • Also termed ‘Asymptomatic HIV Infection’, in this stage the progression of infection becomes slow. In other words, the blood still contains HIV, but the pace of reproduction is slow
    • The manifestation of any symptom is rare in this stage
    • This stage may last for a decade or maybe longer, but without taking medications, people can enter the third stage early
    • There are chances that the stage may not progress with regular medications
    • The symptoms begin to manifest as the stage ends and the infected person moves to the third stage. This happens because the viral loads in the blood attack the immune system, growing HIV levels in the blood and decreasing the count of CD4 (WBC) simultaneously


Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)


    • AIDS is the most severe stage of HIV
    • The condition denotes that the immune system of the HIV infected person is badly damaged and the person is prone to severe opportunistic infections
    • Opportunistic infections are illnesses that occur frequently in an HIV infected person. This includes several ailments such as tuberculosis, lymphoma, pneumonia, and invasive cervical cancer
    • People receive AIDS diagnoses if they manifest opportunistic infections
    • The survival rate without proper AIDS treatment is very low


How is HIV transmitted?

Anyone can contract HIV, even a mother can transmit the virus to her child during pregnancy. The virus is transmitted via bodily fluids, which include:


    • Blood
    • Semen
    • Vaginal and rectal fluids
    • Breast milk


HIV cannot be transmitted by ordinary day-to-day contact, including:


    • Kissing
    • Hugging
    • Shaking hands
    • Sharing personal objects, food, or water


Eye-opening risk factors

Risk factors that increase the chance of contracting HIV are related to the behaviours and conditions of an individual. It includes:


    • Unprotected anal or vaginal sex (the most common way of transmission)
    • Any pre-existing sexually transmitted disease (STD) like syphilis, herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, or bacterial vaginosis
    • Sharing contaminated needles, other injecting equipment, and drug solutions
    • Receiving unsafe blood transfusions, organ transplants, injections, piercing, tattooing, etc. 


Vital preventive measures of HIV

Limiting exposure to the risk factors of HIV infection can help prevent and control the virus. These include:


    • Taking preventive measures to eliminate the chances of mother to child transmission, such as antiretroviral therapy (ART)
    • Use condoms during sex
    • Not taking or injecting drugs
    • Regular diagnosis and counselling for HIV and STI
    • Using prescribed antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) for prevention
    • Voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC)


Final thoughts

Although HIV is a chronic and incurable condition, it can still be controlled by consulting a doctor and taking the prescribed steps for effective HIV management. As mentioned above, the ailment involves three stages and all of them differently, but severely impact your health. The best way to control HIV is by getting diagnosed and taking preventive measures.


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