Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the cause of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Transmission of the virus occurs most commonly through the exchange of body fluids by sharing needles, sharing intravenous drugs or through unprotected sex. It is NOT spread through casual contact, mosquitoes or by touching items that were touched by an infected person.
There are two types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-2 is found mainly in Western Africa, while HIV-1 is found worldwide. Both strands of the virus start with infection. Initial or acute HIV infection is followed by a period of no symptoms (asymptomatic HIV infection), followed by early symptomatic HIV and then AIDS.
Symptoms of acute HIV may or may not manifest after an initial exposure. These symptoms usually dissipate spontaneously in a few weeks and may include:
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Flu-like illness
After initial symptoms, the disease often goes into a period of remission. This window period, known as asymptomatic HIV, can last for months or up to 10 years. During this time, an infected person can still pass the disease to other people.
When the HIV infection manifests again, a person’s T4 cells and CD4 cells—the body’s main fighters of infection—have been compromised, weakening the individual. Symptoms of early symptomatic HIV infection include:
- Loss of weight
- Lethargy, malaise or fatigue
- Fevers and sweats
- Memory loss
- Frequent yeast infections
- Skin rashes
- Herpes infections causing sores in the anus, genitalia and mouth
AIDS is the final stage of HIV. By the time HIV develops into AIDS, severe damage has been caused to the immune system, making the infected person vulnerable to attacks from the germs that are encountered daily. Serious illness or cancer may occur in those who have AIDS.
Patients with AIDS (HIV infection with less than 200 CD4 cells/ml of blood) may experience the following:
- Weight loss
- Extreme fatigue
- Confusion and loss of memory
- Severe headaches
- Neck stiffness
- Loss of coordination
- Dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing)
- Shortness of breath and chronic cough
Various malignancies are linked with AIDS such as:
- Kaposi Sarcoma: Reddish-brown round spots found on the skin and mouth. Prognosis is 2-3 years
- Lymphomas: Cancers of the lymphatic or immune system
- Cervical cancer