Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging your immune system, HIV interferes with your body’s ability to fight the organisms that cause disease. HIV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It can also be spread by contact with infected blood or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding. There are 36.7 million people living with HIV worldwide.
There’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, but there are medications that can dramatically slow the progression of the disease. Combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) prevents HIV from multiplying in the body. If the reproduction of HIV stops, then the body’s immune cells are able to live longer and provide the body with protection from infections.
You can’t become infected with HIV through ordinary contact. That means you can’t catch HIV or AIDS by hugging, kissing, dancing or shaking hands with someone who has the infection. HIV isn’t spread through the air, water or insect bites.
The symptoms of HIV and AIDS vary, depending on the phase of infection.
Most people infected by HIV develop a flu-like illness within a month or two after the virus enters the body. This illness, known as primary or acute HIV infection, may last for a few weeks. Possible signs and symptoms include fever, headache, rash, joint pain, mouth sores or swollen lymph glands. These symptoms can be so mild that you might not even notice them. However, the amount of virus in your bloodstream (viral load) is quite high at this time. As a result, the infection spreads more easily during primary infection than during the next stage.
In some people, persistent swelling of lymph nodes occurs during this stage. Otherwise, there are no specific signs and symptoms. HIV remains in the body and in infected white blood cells. This stage of HIV infection generally lasts around 10 years if you’re not receiving antiretroviral therapy. But sometimes, even with this treatment, it lasts for decades.
As the virus continues to multiply and destroy your immune cells — the cells in your body that help fight off germs — you may develop mild infections or chronic signs and symptoms such as fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhoea, weight loss or thrush.
Thanks to better antiviral treatments, most people with HIV don’t develop AIDS. Untreated, HIV typically turns into AIDS in about 10 years. When AIDS occurs, your immune system has been severely damaged. You’ll be more likely to develop opportunistic infections or opportunistic cancers — diseases that wouldn’t usually trouble a person with a healthy immune system.
The signs and symptoms of some of these infections may include:
Cancers common to HIV/AIDS include Kaposi’s sarcoma and Lymphoma. Other complications include neurological complications and kidney diseases.
There’s no vaccine to prevent HIV infection and no cure for AIDS. But you can protect yourself and others from infection.
Anyone of any age, race, sex or sexual orientation can be infected. However, you’re at greatest risk of HIV/AIDS if you:
With prevalence of 0.26% in the adult population, India has an estimated 2.1 million living with HIV. The key populations most affected by HIV in India are sex workers (HIV prevalence of 2.2%), gay men and other men who have sex with men (HIV prevalence of 9.9%) and transgender people (HIV prevalence of 7.2%)
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