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AIDS (HIV) – Symptoms, Causes and Therapy

AIDS is the abbreviation for Aquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, which means acquired immune deficiency syndrome. You can find all the information you need about symptoms, treatment and prevention of AIDS here.

Synonyms

Aquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

Definition

AIDS sign

AIDS is the last stage of a chronic infection with the human (human) immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which leads to immune deficiency with common infectious diseases and tumors.

The HI virus chooses certain immune cells of the human body as host cells, which it attacks. The virus “reprograms” the cell nucleus of these cells in such a way that they only produce new viruses until the infected defense cells finally die. The newly formed viruses then look for new defense cells as “victims”.

This gradually weakens the immune system and invading pathogens or new cancer cells have an easy job. The immune system collapses. A number of pathogens (known as opportunistic pathogens), which are relatively harmless in healthy people, and certain types of cancer can spread undisturbed in the virus-weakened organism and lead to death.

The virus is found in different body fluids in different concentrations. Sperm is considered highly infectious, followed by blood. Vaginal fluid and urine contain lower virus concentrations, saliva is only slightly infectious. Simply contacting virus-containing material with healthy, intact skin or mucous membranes is not sufficient for HIV infection. The HI virus cannot survive long outside the body.

Symptoms

After infection with the virus and an incubation period of one to three weeks, some patients may develop an acute flu-like illness. These non-specific symptoms of the disease ( fever , rash, swelling of the lymph nodes , sore throat, Muscle and joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, etc.), however, do not allow a direct conclusion to an HIV infection. This is followed by a month-to-year stage in which viruses and antibodies against HIV can be detected in the blood, but the infected person feels healthy. In this phase, however, he can already pass the disease on to other people. The first signs that the disease is progressing can be increased fungal infections, diarrhea, swollen lymph nodes, fever or weight loss. The final stage of infection corresponds to the disease AIDS. The following diseases can occur, some of which are caused by opportunistic pathogens:

  • Nervous system disorders e.g. B. Meningitis (meningitis), weakness, physical and mental failures
  • Infections with toxoplasmosis pathogens
  • severe forms of pneumonia with very difficult to treat germs (e.g. Pneumocystis)
  • extensive fungal infection of mucous membranes, e.g. B. in the esophagus or trachea
  • Virus infections (e.g. with herpes viruses or the cytomegalovirus)
  • tuberculosis
  • Diarrhea
  • certain types of cancer (e.g. Karposi sarcoma)
  • severe weight loss

Causes

HIV is transmitted via:

  • unprotected sexual intercourse, in which there is direct contact with infected body fluids (seminal fluid, vaginal fluid or blood). In the process, venereal diseases or other inflammations on the skin and mucous membranes of the genital organs facilitate the penetration of the virus.
  • the exchange of syringe material among drug addicts.
  • an infected mother to her child during pregnancy, at birth, or rarely through breast milk.
  • from infected blood and blood products (however, this is no longer a threat in industrialized countries). Infections from infected donor tissue or sperm from sperm banks are unlikely.

HIV is not transmitted:

  • through insect bites
  • through everyday contact with infected people in family and work such as B. coughing, touching, hugging or using the same glasses or cutlery, doorknobs, telephones, towels, toilets or hairdressing scissors
  • in the sauna or swimming pool

Examination

The doctor can first do an HIV test. A special test can detect virus components in the blood just a few days after infection. Antibodies in the blood are detected 2-3 weeks or 1-2 months after infection, depending on the test. It is therefore important to know which type of test was carried out at what time. A negative test result 3-6 months after suspected infection is considered certain. If the test result is positive, it is important that the doctor gives you detailed advice or transfers it to another doctor or counseling center who can take on this task. In a detailed examination, the doctor can determine how far the disease has progressed and when is the right time to start therapy. An important indicator here is the determination of a type of immune cell in the blood,

Treatment

Medications have been developed for therapy that inhibit the multiplication of the HI viruses and protect the infected cells from death. As a standard therapy, a combination of three medications is usually used today, whereby the patient must adhere to a strict schedule. Some patients experience significant side effects. In addition to therapy against the virus itself, preventive measures against opportunistic pathogens are extremely important.

In special exceptional cases, transmission of the virus can be avoided by contacting HI viruses (eg needle-stick injuries with infected blood) by initiating therapy immediately. Due to the strong side effects of such therapy, however, it is an emergency measure. 

What to do if you are infected with HIV

  • Get detailed advice from your doctor and regular check-ups.
  • Try to live healthy and avoid anything that weakens the body (excessive alcohol consumption, nicotine, one-sided nutrition, etc.).
  • Avoid places and behaviors with a high risk of infection. Travel to tropical countries with an increased risk of illness should also be avoided.
  • HIV-positive women should be advised against pregnancy because the risk of transmission to the child is 15-30%.
  • Avoid anything that could infect other people (see prevention).

Disease

Years or decades can pass before the outbreak of AIDS. 50% of those infected are at the AIDS stage 10 years after infection. There are life-threatening diseases that lead to death after a few years.

Prevention

Prevention with condoms during sexual intercourse applies particularly to risky sexual practices (e.g. anal sex), to risk groups and to frequently changing sexual partners. However, 100 percent protection is not available, for example in the event of a leaking condom. Drug addicts should be aware of the risk of infection when sharing syringes and needles. Medical personnel and persons who provide first aid should wear gloves for all activities that can bring them into contact with infectious body fluids.

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