HIV/AIDS – Patient Education Overview
Human immunodeficiency virus, known as HIV, is the cause of AIDS, which stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Transmission of the virus occurs most commonly through the exchange of body fluids by sharing needles, sharing intravenous drugs or through unprotected sex. Early patient education is the key to lowering the rate of this virus.
It is important to note that HIV is NOT spread through casual contact, mosquitoes or by touching items that were touched by an infected patient.
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, called 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, 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 ten years. It is important to note that a person with an asymptomatic HIV infection can still pass the disease to other people.
When the HIV infection manifests again, a person’s T4 cells and CD4 cells, which are 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, 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 that person vulnerable to attacks from the germs that are encountered daily with progression to serious illness or cancer.
Patients with AIDS (HIV infection with less than 200 CD4 cells/ml of blood) manifest with:
- Weight loss
- Extreme fatigue
- Confusion and loss of memory
- Severe headaches
- Neck stiffness
- Loss of coordination
- Dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing)
- Shortness of breath, chronic cough
Various malignancies are linked with AIDS such as:
- Kaposi Sarcoma – Reddish-brown round spots found diffusely on the skin and mouth. Prognosis is 2-3 years
- Lymphomas – Cancers of the lymphatic or immune system
- Cervical cancer