HIV, also known as Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus which causes AIDS or Acquired immune deficiency syndrome. This illness affects the immune system in such a way that the body is made vulnerable to diseases and infections. As the disease progresses, the person becomes more and more susceptible illnesses.
The human immunodeficiency virus is usually present in the body fluids of an infected person. These body fluids include semen, vaginal fluids, blood and breast milk. This virus can be passed from one person to another through sexual contact or blood to blood contact. Infected women can also pass HIV to their babies if they deliver them through childbirth and if they breastfeed the latter. One can acquire HIV through vaginal contact, oral sex, anal sex, contaminated hypodermic needles and blood transfusion.
The virus and the disease itself are termed as HIV/AIDS. A person with HIV/AIDS can have opportunistic infections which can later on need to death. At present, there is not known cure for HIV/AIDS, although there are some treatments that can slow down the course of infection. There are actually people with HIV/ AIDS who are currently living a long and healthy life.
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The causative agent, HIV, is a virus that attacks the T lymphocytes of the immune system. This virus causes AIDS, the syndrome that persists as the advanced stage of HIV infection. Some people can have HIV infection but do not develop AIDS. People at risk for HIV/AIDS should undergo HIV testing to determine whether they have HIV infection in the early stages. During the early stages, HIV infection can be treated with preventive drugs to slow down the growth and multiplication of the virus and delay the onset of AIDS. People with AIDS still have the HIV virus and are still infectious; they can still transmit infection to other people.
During the early stages of the infection, patients with HIV may have no symptoms while others may develop flu-like symptoms. These symptoms may develop within two to six weeks after acquiring the virus. Early symptoms may include fever, chills, joint pain, sore throat, night sweating, a red rash, weakness, tiredness, weight loss and weakness.
After the initial symptoms, there may be no further symptoms for many years, up to 10 years. During this time, a person with HIV may appear healthy. However, if left untreated, HIV can weaken the body's immune system, making the patient vulnerable to serious illnesses. Late-stage HIV infection can bring about signs and symptoms such as blurred vision, long-term diarrhea, dry cough, fever, night sweats, fatigue, swollen glands, shortness of breath, weight loss and white spots in the tongue and mouth. The patient becomes at risk to more serious illnesses such as esophagitis, infections of the nervous system, pneumonia, cancers (Kaposi’s sarcoma, invasive cervical cancer, lung cancer, rectal carcinomas, hepatocellular carcinomas, head and neck cancers, lymphomas), toxoplasmosis and tuberculosis.
Nutrition in HIV Patients
A recent study has shown that daily nutritional supplementation for the first three months of antiretroviral treatment (ART) for HIV can improve the condition of HIV patients. This study, done by researchers from the University of Copenhagen and Jimma University, Ethiopia have shown that patients who took nutritional supplements with ART gained three times as much weight than those who took ART without nutritional supplements. The patients who had supplementation did not just gain fat, they also gained muscle mass. In addition they have improved muscle strength and they are able to manage daily tasks well. Immune status was also restored in these patients. Thus nutritional supplementation is recommended in these patients.
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