Human Immunodeficiency Virus

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is present in an infected person's blood, semen and/or vaginal secretions. The HIV virus ultimately weakens the immune system to the point that it is unable to fight off even the simplest organisms that cause diseases. If HIV does enough harm to the immune system, it can develop into AIDS - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

While it is most commonly contracted via sexual contact, it can also be transmitted by shared needles or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. It can take years for HIV to begin displaying any signs or symptoms.

How Is HIV Contracted?

As mentioned above, HIV is a blood/bodily fluid born pathogen so it requires direct access to an individual's blood stream in order to be transmitted. The most common ways to contract HIV are:

Sexual intercourse: HIV can be transmitted via vaginal, anal and/or oral sex. The HIV virus can enter small tears or abrasions, which can often occur during sexual activity. Condoms are the only way to prevent the transmission of AIDS via sexual contact.

Shared needles: Needles infected with the virus can spread it from person to person through IV drug use or piercings/tattoos if needles aren't properly sterilized.

Blood Transfusions: A blood transfusion can transmit the HIV virus if an infected person donates blood. The U.S. tests all donated blood for the presence of HIV so this is no longer an issue in this country.

From mother to baby: HIV-positive mothers can transmit the disease in utero, during birth, or breastfeeding. However, if doctors are aware a pregnant woman is HIV-positive, they can prescribe medications which greatly reduce the chances of the baby contracting the virus.

What Are the Symptoms of HIV?

HIV attacks CD4 cells. These are very specialized white blood cells that work with the immune system to fight off infections. The majority of infected people will have flu-like symptoms within the first month or two after becoming infected. Unfortunately, if these symptoms are regarded as the flu, carriers will unknowingly infect others until they're diagnosed.

Symptoms of HIV include:

  • Fever
  • Achy muscles and/or joints
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash
  • Sore Throat
  • Night Sweats
  • Swollen lymph glands (mostly in the neck)
  • Mouth or genital sores/ulcers

At this stage of the infection, the HIV-positive person is the most contagious. Later in the disease's progression, they can still infect others but they are not as highly contagious.

As HIV progresses, the symptoms progress as well to include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath

Typically, HIV will progress to AIDS after 10 years or so. Healthy CD4 cell counts are 500 - 1500 cells per cubic millimeter of blood. AIDS is diagnosed when the CD4 count has dropped to 200. AIDS diagnosis indicates a severely damaged immune system.

Treatment for HIV

While there is no cure for HIV, modern treatments have been very successful. There are various classes of HIV blockers which must be used in specific combinations to prevent the disease from becoming resistant, however these treatments can have severe side effects. HIV treatment should begin when:

  • CD4 counts are 500 or less
  • A woman is pregnant
  • Symptoms are severe
  • One has an HIV-related kidney disease
  • One is being treated for Hepatitis B

Anyone diagnosed with HIV will want to discuss alternative treatments to boost immune system. Acupuncture, dietary changes, IV nutrient therapy and other alternative treatments have all been shown to boost immune function which can inhibit the HIV virus.

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