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AIDS: Symptoms & Prevention

AIDS: Symptoms & Prevention

There are more than 2 million people in India infected with the HIV virus, according to a 2018 UNAIDS report. About 88,000 people are infected by HIV every year and about 69,000 people die every year from AIDS-related diseases. 

I do not want to be a scare-monger but those are some frightening statistics. Of course everything, especially numbers, become magnified in India due to its humongous population. The country ranks third in the HIV epidemic. 

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This is a retrovirus that causes AIDS, which is an acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It's important to understand that not all those who are infected by HIV have or develop AIDS. Some people can get HIV but remain disease-free their whole lives. 

The HIV virus attacks the body’s immune cells, compromises or weakens its immune system and makes a person prone to be infected by any disease. The body’s immune system is what prevents us from succumbing to diseases because it fights back. If the body’s immune system is weak, then we do not have any defence mechanism against the virus and bacteria that attacks us. 

HIV is transmitted sexually, through transfusion of infected blood, use of infected needles, through mixing of body fluids, and passed from an infected mother to baby. In India, the disease is largely spread sexually, with about 86% of new infections being solely due to this mode. 

At one point of time, the HIV epidemic and AIDS seemed to be unstoppable in India. However, with the efforts of the National AIDS Control Programme and several foreign agencies working in India, new infections have seen a slowdown. Between 2010 and 2017, AIDS-related deaths fell by more than 55%, while HIV infections saw a decline of 27%. However, in 2017-18, there has been a slight increase. 

What are the symptoms of AIDS

As we said earlier, even if you are HIV-infected, you may not know it unless you get a disease. There may be no symptoms or there could be flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, joint pains that may go away after a time. 

A fever that does not go away, drastic weight loss, being prone to any and all infections, lung infections, consistent health problems are all symptoms and signs that your immune system has been compromised. Since it is an immune deficiency disease, AIDS symptoms differ from person to person, depending on what they are infected with. Even a simple thing like influenza or a common cold can be fatal for a person with AIDS. 

If you are feeling “out of sorts” for more than a week, it is time to seek a doctor. If you have had unprotected sex with someone other than your spouse or regular partner, had a blood transfusion or blood test at some point in your life, and then you start to develop these symptoms, you need to get yourself tested for HIV. People with HIV live for years without any symptoms and then suddenly they fall ill. During these years, the HIV could be undermining the immune system.

There is something called opportunistic infection. Our bodies harbour all kinds of bacteria and germs. In a normal person with a healthy immune mechanism, these are not harmful. In a person with HIV or AIDs, they can be potential killers because the immune system is weak. Diseases that develop because of this are called opportunistic infections.

HIV is detected via two different tests –

- nucleic acid tests or NAT, which tests for the actual virus in the blood

- antigen or antibody test, which investigates HIV antibodies and antigens in the body

How to prevent AIDS

The easiest thing is to avoid sex with random people. If you intend to get intimate with someone whom you have met recently, you need to know that person is clean. This goes for both you and your spouse/partner because if any of you contract HIV, then the other person can get it. 

For that reason, never have unprotected sex. Apart from protecting women from unwanted pregnancies, it also gives some protection from contracting HIV or any other sexually transmitted diseases. 

If you have to get blood tests done or plan to give blood, insist on new needles being used. If you are not sure, then you can buy and carry your own needles. 

Educating yourself and those around you, is the first step towards preventing AIDS. Read, Learn, and spread Awareness.  

Janaki Krishnan (Author)

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