The human immunodeficiency virus is responsible for causing one of the world's most deadly diseases, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. HIV is almost 60 times smaller than any red blood cell and is part of the Lentivirus genus under the Retroviridae family. The virus attacks immune cells, such as macrophages, and subsequently leads to the immune system’s failure, causing several life-threatening infections to flourish within the body. HIV infection occurs through the fluid transmission, and can be contracted through blood transfusions, pregnancy, or contact with infected saliva. Sexual intercourse is the most common means of HIV transmission, through seminal and vaginal fluid that is passed to a non-infected individual. HIV/AIDS remains one of the top causes of death worldwide, resulting in 1.5 million casualties yearly.
Stages of HIV infection and symptoms
Early onset signs of HIV can be difficult to detect, as the virus can lie dormant after initial contraction for several years. During the primary infection a month after viral contraction, patients develop a flu-like illness known as acute HIV infection. The next stage of HIV infection is the clinically latent stage. This is the dormant phase wherein the virus lies inactive and many patients do not experience symptoms for as long as eight to ten years. During early symptomatic HIV infection, the virus begins to grow and attack immune cells, resulting in continued illness symptoms. If the patient has not received any HIV treatment during the first 10 years, their condition develops into AIDS, wherein their immune systems enter critical condition.
There is no current cure for HIV/AIDS. The best way for patients to fight the symptoms of the disease is to stay as healthy as possible and strengthen their immune systems. This requires lifestyle changes that are important for keeping the body in good condition. A healthy diet loads the body with essential vitamins and nutrients to help fortify the immune system. Eating a well-balanced diet full of protein-rich meats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and calcium-rich dairy products keep the body strong and healthy. It is also important to keep away from oily or fatty foods, as well as too much of artificial sugars.
Rest and exercise
Regular physical activity helps regulate weight, blood pressure, and other factors that keep the immune system functioning properly. Rest is also a very important factor, as over fatigue and stress make the immune system more vulnerable to infection. Stress also elevates blood pressure, leading to hypertension, which in turn causes immunosuppression. Getting the right amounts of sleep each day strengthens the body’s resistance. Rest and relaxation help combat stress, and, together with a healthy diet, keep the immune system in stable condition.
Because HIV makes the immune system much more vulnerable, it is important to take as many safety precautions as possible. Eating certain kinds of food, traveling, or simply going out of the house can all risk exposures to infection. Patients must wash their hands regularly to prevent any bacteria from infecting the body. Any food eaten must always be cooked thoroughly and bought from reliable and clean markets. Patients should take extra measures to avoid staying in any risky environments that could be riddled with bacteria, and keep away from rain or damp areas.
Certain anti-HIV drugs work to counter the effects of the virus by protecting the immune system. These include non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, which prevent the virus from duplicating. Protease inhibitors have similar functions, and fusion inhibitors prevent HIV from entering immune cells. Integrase inhibitors prevent HIV from disseminating its genetic material into immune cells.