AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It is one of the most serious diseases, which affects the human immune system. About 42 million people worldwide are estimated to be suffering from HIV or AIDS. HIV belongs to a class of viruses called retroviruses. Once infected, HIV gradually attacks the cells of the body's immune system and eventually damages them. Thus, persons diagnosed with AIDS become more vulnerable to infections because of a weak immune system. This puts them at high risk for certain life-threatening infections or cancers.
First off, it is to important to bear in mind that a HIV-infected person may not show any of the HIV symptoms but can still be infected with HIV/AIDS. HIV testing is the only way to ascertain the HIV infection. The first symptoms of HIV infection, which usually begins two to three weeks after exposure to HIV, include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headache, tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, weight loss, and so on. If the HIV infection is left untreated, the disease progresses to AIDS. At this late stage of the disease, the HIV-infected person may get affected by opportunistic infections such as pneumonia, candidiasis of the mouth, and so on.
Anyone can get HIV, irrespective of caste, creed, color, age, sex, and marital or financial status. HIV is transmitted through unprotected sex with a person infected with AIDS; by sharing an intravenous needle; or HIV-infected blood transfusions. Also, babies who are born to HIV-positive mothers can get infected with the AIDS virus.
Be aware that you cannot get AIDS through casual contact such as touching, hugging, or shaking hands with an infected person. Also, note that AIDS is not spread through coughing, sharing glasses, or touching doorknobs, and not even by biting insects like mosquitoes.
HIV infection is diagnosed by means of blood tests namely ELISA and Western blot. These tests work by measuring the levels of antibodies in the blood. Both these tests are inexpensive and accurate.
There is neither a known cure for AIDS nor a vaccine to prevent it, but you can control HIV. This can be possible through prompt early treatment for HIV/AIDS. The treatment for AIDS and HIV not only slows the spread of the infection but also prevents, cures, or controls opportunistic infections. The drugs used in the treatment of HIV or AIDS are referred to as anti-retrovirals (ARVs), anti-HIV or anti-AIDS drugs. These drugs help keep the amount of HIV in the body at a low level, which may prolong the life of the patient.
Like most medications, HIV drugs can cause side effects. These side effects are often mild, but in same cases serious side effects can occur. At the beginning of taking anti-HIV drugs, for the first four to six weeks, side effects are most common. These problems usually go away as the body gets adjusted to the new drug. It is to be noted that once you have started taking anti-HIV medications, you must take them every day throughout your life.
Getting yourself informed about the side effects of HIV/AIDS drugs helps you to handle any problem that may arise when you are on antiretroviral treatment. The common side effects include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, fever, rash, dry mouth, and weight loss. Some of the severe side effects include lactic acidosis, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, hepatotoxicity, and so on. Let your health care provider know if you are experiencing side effects, especially if they get worse or do not go away.
While taking antiretroviral drugs, you should be aware of the drug interactions that may occur. Some drugs that are likely to cause drug interactions are as follows:
- Antacids (Cimetidine)
- Blood thinners (Warfarin)
This is not a complete list. It may be noted that drugs other than those listed above may also interact with HIV drugs.