Considerations of the HIV virus
HIV is a sexually transmitted disease that leads to AIDs and is ultimately terminal.
The HIV virus is generally considered to be a sexually transmitted disease, although, in fact it may also be transmitted by an accidental needle stick injury, the sharing of dirty needles and/or drug paraphernalia, by contaminated blood, during childbirth and via breastfeeding.
It is important to note that the HIV virus can NOT be transmitted via kissing, hand shaking or sharing tableware.
At risk groups
Certain groups of people are more at risk than others of contracting the HIV virus, these groups include -
- Individuals that participate in unprotected sex
- Intravenous drug users, those that share dirty needles or drug paraphernalia
- Health industry workers who may be at risk of needle stick injuries
- Recipients of infected blood – this risk factor is now negligible due to the implementation of the rigorous screening of blood products.
As the HIV virus infects the body it will progressively damage and weaken the immune system. Very often an individual who has been exposed to the virus may not experience any symptoms for a number of years. However, many individuals report certain common symptoms appearing within a few weeks of initial exposure. Symptoms of the HIV virus tend to be progressive and may depend on the viral load of the individual.
- Flu like symptoms
- Aches and pains
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss and lack of appetite
These symptoms usually disappear after two or three weeks and the infected patient may not realise that anything is amiss. However the virus will continue to be active and the individual remains infectious to those they come in contact with – meaning they may well be infecting other people without realising. This lack of symptoms is the key reason for anyone in an at risk group to follow safe sex practices.
- Enlarged lymph nodes – the presence of enlarged and painful lymph nodes may be regarded almost as a classic HIV virus symptom, the nodes in the neck, armpits and groin may be affected.
- Liver and/or spleen enlargement
- Fatigue and listlessness that is difficult to shake off.
- Appearance of genital warts and/or herpes
- Ulcers or herpes in the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat
The presence of persistent symptoms which are difficult to treat may cause a medical practitioner to suspect the presence of the HIV virus. Other symptoms which may give cause for concern if they are persistent -
- Dry cough, shortness of breath
- Changes to finger and toe nails
- Night sweats
- Confusion, personality changes, difficulty concentrating
- Sore throat and pain on swallowing
- Tingling or numbness in the limbs
- Repeated yeast infections
- Repeated bouts of pelvic inflammatory disease in women
- Abnormal Pap smear test
Late stage AIDS
HIV infections that remain untreated will develop into full blown AIDS within twelve or thirteen years of the initial infection – treatment will very often delay or even prevent the development of AIDS.
Opportunistic infections will begin to develop as the immune system begins to weaken – these included pneumonia and/or rare forms of cancer.
A small number of individuals infected with HIV will experience a rapid progression of the disease – it is not yet known why.