The stages of HIV begin in a contagion, at some point in life, to later develop the evolution of the disease with its multiple varieties of presentation. Not all patients go through it in the same way.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) are a spectrum of diseases that, although associated, are different. According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), HIV and AIDS are dissimilar concepts.
The first term responds to the set of infective responses caused by the virus, while the second refers to the final and most serious stage of the disease. Due to its epidemiological importance at a global level and the ease of contagion, it is essential to know its manifestations.
How is HIV distributed?
According to various studies, the level of knowledge about the stages of HIV is poor in many social strata. Therefore, it is useful to consider some data that put the global situation in perspective.
- This virus has claimed the lives of around 33 million people globally. However, because of the effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment increasingly advanced, the disease has become a chronic disease in which the patient can live long and healthily.
- An estimated 38 million people were infected with HIV at the end of 2019.
- 68% of these adults have to take antiretroviral treatment (ART) for life.
- More than half of the patients are in an age range between 15 and 49 years.
As we can see, we are facing a very widespread viral disease. Its age-skewed distribution responds to an undeniable reality: most cases are transmitted by the exchange of certain fluids (semen and vaginal discharge, among others) during sexual contact. HIV can also be transmitted from mother to child through breast milk and fluid blood contact.
Stages of HIV infection
This dreaded virus attacks the immune system, destroying cells such as lymphocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells. This results in a general immunodeficiency in the patient, which makes them more vulnerable to infections and cancers.
According to the government society AIDSinfo, there are three main stages of HIV infection. We explain them below.
1. Stage of acute HIV infection
It is characterized by its rapid appearance, as it begins to manifest itself two to four weeks after infection. During this stage of HIV, some people experience flu-like symptoms. Scientific studies cite the following signs:
- Fever in 80% of cases.
- Arthralgia (pain in the joints) in 54% of cases.
- Anorexia in 54% of cases.
- Other symptoms such as oral ulcers, pharyngitis and weight loss.
In this stage, the HIV virus reproduces rapidly and spreads throughout the body, destroying white blood cells. In these first infective steps, the concentration in the blood is very high, which favours its transmission.
2. Stage of chronic HIV infection
In this phase, HIV continues to replicate inside the patient’s body and deteriorate the immune system, but it occurs in very low concentrations. This makes this period, in most cases, asymptomatic.
Without treatment, in about 10 years, this stage will lead to the clinical picture of AIDS. Still, with antiretroviral drugs (ART), this process can be delayed for several decades, through which the patient is not a transmitter. Various studies corroborate the efficacy of ART approaches.
Due to the continued exposure and destruction of the immune system by the HIV virus, at this point human barriers are no longer able to cope with external infections. A person is considered to have AIDS when they have a CD4 count of less than 200 for every cubic millimetre of blood.
This is the time when various opportunistic infections occur, which are included in the definition of AIDS from the World Health Organization of 1987. Some of them are the following:
- Septicemia (entry of bacteria into the blood) by Salmonella.
- Aspergillosis: a disease caused by fungi that settle in the respiratory tract.
- Bronchitis and pneumonia.
- Kaposi’s sarcoma: a malignant lymphatic tumour.
- Invasive carcinomas
These are some examples of infections or tumour processes that are very unlikely in a non-immunosuppressed person. Due to the weakness of the patient and his fragility to fungi, protozoa, viruses and bacteria, without treatment, there is no life expectancy greater than three years.
HIV and AIDS: what to remember?
As we have seen, the human immunodeficiency virus attacks in different stages and the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the last of them. The immune system weakens and becomes susceptible to external and internal agents that, under normal conditions, do not represent danger.
Even so, this disease, which was once considered certain death, today presents effective clinical approaches that allow the patient to lead a normal life. If antiretrovirals are given on time, an HIV positive person will have a very positive prognosis.