The symptoms of HIV or human immunodeficiency virus are varied since it is initially an infection hidden in the human immune system. Therefore, it isn’t easy to detect it in time, although much progress has been made in the quality of the laboratories that register it.
Knowing the possible signs of the disease is key to its early detection. Based on this, treatments can be established that greatly improve patients’ quality of life and help them cope with the complications of pathology.
What is HIV?
HIV belongs to a special family of viruses called Retroviruses since inside; they contain a single chain of ribonucleic acid or RNA. It has a nucleus with this genetic information and a lipid shell with different receptors.
These receptors allow the virus to enter human cells, specifically CD4 + lymphocytes, which are the body’s defense cells in charge of organizing the immune system. If this viral particle attacks them, they cannot fulfill their function, and the organism is defenseless against other infections.
Stigmatization of patients with HIV symptoms caused false myths to emerge about their spread. It was thought that it could be transmitted by air or water, by mosquitoes and other insects, or by the contact of sweat. But the truth is the following:
- The virus does not survive long outside the human body and cannot reproduce without a host. Therefore, it can’t be transmitted in water or air.
- HIV is transmitted by certain body fluids, such as blood or semen, but it is false that it can be carried in sweat, tears, or saliva. Giving a hug, holding hands, sharing a toilet, or giving a social kiss to an infected person is not risky.
HOw, is it transmitted?
The body fluids that are of care are the following:
- Semen and pre-seminal fluid: It is important to know this because the reverse call does not prevent the spread of HIV. Only the use of prophylactic measures such as condoms is effective.
- Rectal, vaginal secretions: the mucus from these areas.
- Blood: the virus can be contracted through transfusions, but its incidence rate for this cause is negligible since the analysis of transfusions is strict. On the other hand, sharing syringes, in intravenous addicts, does represent an increasing problem.
These bodily fluids must come into contact with the other person’s mucous membranes or injured tissues, or be injected into the bloodstream for transmission. In another way, women with HIV can transmit the virus to their babies during childbirth or through breast milk.
Symptoms of HIV do not show their faces until advanced stages when infected people contract other opportunistic infections or develop malignancies. This generates a long window with no opportunity for early detection that worsens the prognosis.
Initially, when the virus enters our bloodstream and replicates, it causes symptoms like flu with fever, tiredness, and joint pain. However, in most infected people, this is mistaken for a common cold.
This flu-like condition is self-limiting, and the person is well again in a few weeks or days. However, the virus does not disappear but remains dormant inside the lymphocytes and lymph nodes. After a few years, although it depends on each infected, the virus comes out of hibernation and begins to replicate.
As the person is left without defenses, this is used by other viruses, bacteria, and fungi to infect. The same microorganisms that in a healthy person do not cause problems. In HIV, they lead to serious diseases. This type of pathology is called opportunistic. Some examples are the following:
- Pneumocystis jiroveci: causes severe pneumonia, affecting both lungs, without expectoration or pain in the chest. The person has a constant fever and a feeling of suffocation.
- Repeat pneumococcus.
- Pulmonary and extrapulmonary tuberculosis: Most people exposed to this bacterium can stop the infection and prevent its evolution, but in the case of HIV, the defenses are not enough.
- Cerebral toxoplasmosis: the Toxoplasma is a parasite found in raw meat and cat feces. Most of the population has come into contact with the parasite, but the disease never develops. However, in immunosuppressed situations, it resurfaces and lodges in the brain.
- Digestive candida: One of the symptoms of HIV in the digestive system is gastroenteritis due to rare fungi, such as candidiasis.
In an HIV patient, any infection spreads throughout the body and is very serious, as there are not enough defenses to control them. Mortality is not so much from the virus itself, but opportunistic germs.
Some malignancies characteristically develop in HIV patients. These are cancers that are not as frequent in other people and are multiplied by the deficiency of the immune system in identifying abnormal cells. The most common is Kaposi’s sarcoma.
What to do when detecting HIV symptoms?
Currently, anyone who is found to be positive for HIV has antiretroviral treatment started early. The importance of using these drugs as quickly as possible is to prevent the spread and improve the patient’s life expectancy.
Failure to take antiretroviral treatment causes the infection to be uncontrolled and the immune system to weaken further. In addition, other people who can be infected by the high viral load are put at risk, for example, by having unprotected sex.
Symptoms of suspected HIV should alert to request a screening test from the doctor. There is no need to be afraid to request it. Many countries have already legislated mechanisms to ensure confidentiality so that there are no prejudices about the patients who come to consult.