Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a condition in humans in which the immune system begins to fail, leading to life-threatening opportunistic infections. HIV primarily infects vital cells in the human immune system specifically known as CD4+ T cells leading to low levels of these. When CD4+ T cell numbers decline below a critical level; the body becomes progressively more susceptible to opportunistic infections (OI's).
If untreated, eventually most HIV-infected individuals develop AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). OI's usually do not happen in people with a healthy immune system. OI’s usually develop in people with a damaged or weak immune system. OI’s can also occur in people who are not HIV positive. “When an HIV infected person develops OI’s or the CD4 count goes below 200 means that has developed AIDS, a late and life-threatening stage of the HIV infection”.
How is it transmitted?
First, it is important to know that the only body fluids that present risk for HIV infection from an infected person to another are:
- Semen (cum)
- Vaginal Discharges
- Breast Milk
HIV may be transmitted from one person to another when one or more body fluids (listed above) of a person living HIV come into direct contact with an open wound or with the mucous membranes of the genitals (penis and vagina), the rectum (anus), and/or mouth of the other person. The following present the greatest risks for HIV infection:
- Sharing needles to inject drugs, tattoos, and body piercing.
- Unprotected Vaginal or Anal Sex
- Mother-to-child during pregnancy and/or birth
- Breast feeding.
- Oral sex when there are cuts or bleeding of the mouth.
How can I reduce the risk of infection?
- By not sharing needles, razors or toothbrushes.
- By using latex condoms and dental dams during sex
- By knowing and limiting the number of sexual partners.
Whate are the most common symptoms?
The initial infection with HIV generally occurs after transfer of body fluids from an infected person to an uninfected one. The first stage of infection, also known as the primary or acute infection, is a period when the HIV virus replicates rapidly in one’s system immediately after infection. Acute infection is generally present within 2-4 weeks after exposure leading to high levels of HIV in blood. During this period, most individuals develop flu-like symptoms: fever, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, rashes. These primary symptoms are not used to diagnose HIV infection as they do not develop in all cases and because many are caused by other more common diseases. It is important to note that HIV is highly transmissible during acute infection. When untreated, most HIV-infected individuals develop AIDS and their lives are shortened.