HIV/AIDS: Help, Support and Overcome
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a disease that adversely affects the human immune system. It is caused by the HIV or the human immunodeficiency virus. The virus multiplies in the human body and results in the subsequent inactivity of the immune system, making the body prone to diseases and infections. As the virus multiplication continues, the body’s susceptibility to diseases increases which results in the eventual death of the patient. HIV can infect people of all ages, including newborn infants and unborn children. It is prevalent in people all over the world, irrespective of gender or region. The virus is transmitted by bodily fluids including blood, semen, vaginal discharge and breast milk. Most people are infected with HIV during blood transfusion, unsafe sexual intercourse, breastfeeding and pregnancy. The disease is also prevalent among drug users who share needles to inject intoxicants in their blood stream.
AIDS is a disease which has little or no physical manifestation. Once a patient is infected, a blood test that confirms the presence of the virus is the only means of detection. Hence, it may take years for a patient who has been infected by HIV to reach the final stage of the infection, known as AIDS. A common myth is that penetration is the only form of sexual intercourse that transfers HIV between people, but in reality, any form of sexual contact with transfer of bodily fluid, including fellatial and anal intercourse, also results in the transfer of the virus. Once infected, a person usually succumbs to AIDS in about ten years.
Help and Support for HIV/AIDS
The primary stage of HIV infection, also called acute infection, lasts several weeks and is characterized by flu symptoms, rashes, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes. The occurrence and intensity of symptoms vary from person to person. The second stage, known as latency, involves little or no symptoms and may last from a few months to twenty years. A person who ignores the primary symptoms would not even know that he or she has been infected by the HIV virus. During the final stage, the body falls prey to infections, cancer or other diseases. The existence of the virus in the body can be diagnosed only by testing bodily fluids, such as blood. A patient who suspects acute infection must get the HIV test performed at the earliest to help manage the infection. Preventive measures to check the spread of HIV among people include the practice of safe sex, regular blood tests, safe blood transfusion, using sterilized needles, and using antiretroviral drugs in pregnancy by infected mothers.
There is no treatment to cure HIV/AIDS but the disease can be managed. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has shown positive signs of increasing life expectancy of individuals infected by HIV. The current life expectancy of HIV/AIDS patients is 20-50 years. Many patients diagnosed by the disease go into denial and stop treatment. However, a positive attitude among friends and family, and involvement in a strong support group make for efficient management of HIV/AIDS.