What are the effects of HIV on the body?
What effect does HIV have on the body?
HIV attacks a specific type of immune system cell in the body. It’s known as the CD4 helper cell or T cell. When HIV destroys this cell, it becomes harder for the body to fight off other infections.
When HIV is left untreated, even a minor infection such as a cold can be much more severe. This is because the body has difficulty responding to new infections.
Not only does HIV attack CD4 cells, it also uses the cells to make more of the virus. HIV destroys CD4 cells by using their replication machinery to create new copies of the virus. This ultimately causes the CD4 cells to swell and burst.
When the virus has destroyed a certain number of CD4 cells and the CD4 count drops below 200, a person will have progressed to AIDS.
However, it’s important to note that advancements in HIV treatment have made it possible for many people with HIV to live longer, healthier lives.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV is transmitted through contact with the following bodily fluids, from most likely to lead to HIV transmission to least likely:
- vaginal fluid
- breast milk
Sex without a condom and sharing needles — even tattoo or piercing needles — can result in the transmission of HIV. However, if an HIV-positive person is able to achieve viral suppression, then they’ll be unable to transmit HIV to others through sexual contact.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, a person has reached viral suppression when they have fewer than 200 copies of HIV RNA per milliliter of blood.
The first signs of HIV usually appear after 2-6 weeks in the form of flu-like symptoms. This condition is known as seroconversion illness. Seroconversion is the stage when a person’s body is producing antibodies to HIV, which means that their immune system is fighting the infection.
Flu-like symptoms that accompany seroconversion include:
- skin rash
- sore throat
- swollen glands
- joint or muscle pain
These symptoms usually last for 1-2 weeks. Once the seroconversion period is over, a person may not experience any HIV symptoms for several years.
Although people tend to feel well at this stage, it is important to remember that HIV is still active. As it continues to reproduce and infect new cells, HIV also damages a person’s immune system, which means it is unable to protect the body from illness.
How does chronic HIV affect the body?
The chronic HIV stage is known as the latent or asymptomatic stage. During this stage, a person usually won’t have as many symptoms as they did during the acute phase. This is because the virus doesn’t multiply as quickly.
However, a person can still transmit HIV if the virus is left untreated and they continue to have a detectable viral load. Without treatment, the chronic HIV stage can last for many years before advancing to AIDS.
Advances in antiretroviral treatments have significantly improved the outlook for people living with HIV. With proper treatment, many people who are HIV-positive are able to achieve viral suppression and live long, healthy lives. Learn more about HIV and life expectancy.
How does AIDS affect the body?
A normal CD4 count ranges from approximately 500 to 1,600 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (cells/mm3) in healthy adults, according to HIV.gov.
A person receives an AIDS diagnosis when they have a CD4 count of fewer than 200 cells/mm3.
A person may also receive an AIDS diagnosis if they’ve had an opportunistic infection or another AIDS-defining condition.
People with AIDS are vulnerable to opportunistic infections and common infections that may include tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis, and pneumonia.
People with weakened immune systems are also more susceptible to certain types of cancer, such as lymphoma and cervical cancer.
The survival rate for people with AIDS varies depending on treatment and other factors.
What are the factors that affect disease progression?
The most important factor affecting HIV progression is the ability to achieve viral suppression. Taking antiretroviral therapy regularly helps many people slow the progression of HIV and reach viral suppression.
However, a variety of factors affect HIV progression, and some people progress through the phases of HIV more quickly than others.
Factors that affect HIV progression can include:
- Ability to achieve viral suppression. Whether someone can take their antiretroviral medications and achieve viral suppression is the most important factor by far.
- Age when symptoms start. Being older can result in faster progression of HIV.
- Health before treatment. If a person had other diseases, such as tuberculosis, hepatitis C, or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), it can affect their overall health.
- Timing of diagnosis. Another important factor is how soon a person was diagnosed after they contracted HIV. The longer between their diagnosis and treatment, the more time the disease has to progress unchecked.
- Practicing an unhealthy lifestyle, such as having a poor diet and experiencing severe stress, can cause HIV to progress more quickly.
- Genetic history. Some people seem to progress more quickly through their disease given their genetic makeup.
Some factors can delay or slow the progression of HIV. These include:
- taking antiretroviral medications and achieving viral suppression
- seeing a healthcare provider, as recommended, for HIV treatments
- stopping the use of substances such as ethanol, methamphetamine, or cocaine
- taking care of one’s health, including having sex with condoms to prevent the acquisition of other STDs, trying to minimize stress, and sleeping regularly
Living a healthy lifestyle and seeing a healthcare provider regularly can make a big difference in a person’s overall health.
How can HIV be prevented?
HIV doesn’t cause a lot of outward or noticeable symptoms until the disease has progressed. For this reason, it’s important to understand how HIV is transmitted and the ways to prevent transmission.
HIV can be transmitted by:
- having sex, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex
- sharing needles, including tattoo needles, needles used for body piercing, and needles used for injecting drugs
- coming into contact with body fluids, such as semen, vaginal fluid, blood, and breast milk
HIV is not transmitted by:
- breathing the same air as a person living with HIV
- getting bitten by a mosquito or other biting insect
- hugging, holding hands with,
- , or touching a person living with HIV
- touching a door handle or toilet seat that’s been used by an HIV-positive person
Keeping this in mind, some of the ways a person can prevent HIV include:
- practicing the abstinence method by refraining from oral, anal, or vaginal sex
- always using a latex barrier, such as a condom, when having oral, anal, or vaginal sex
- avoiding sharing needles with other people
Healthcare providers usually recommend that people get an HIV test at least once a year if they’ve had sex without condoms or shared needles with anyone in the past. People with past exposure to HIV would also benefit from episodic testing.
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