There is a lot of confusion about HIV-AIDS, so this page will enable you to have a good basic knowledge about the subject.
I will cover many aspects of the topic, including its history, growth, present and future treatments, alternative treatments and outlooks for the future.
So let’s start with a few basics –
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
This is a virus that was first fully recognized in the early 1980s, but that was thought to have originated in West Central Africa about 80 or so years earlier.
There are two main sub-strains HIV-1 and HIV-2, which are both very similar in their effects, but HIV-1 tends to be more powerful.
The HIV-1 is thought to have been transmitted to humans from wild Chimpanzees in Cameroon, whereas the HIV-2 strain was probably transmitted from a species of wild monkey called a Mangabey in either Cameroon, Guinea-Bisseau or Gabon.
Like many other viruses, (for example the ‘flu’ virus), the HIV virus is able to change and mutate easily, which makes the production of an effective vaccine very difficult.
(Just as the ‘Flu’ virus vaccine is different each year because the virus changes or mutates).
Unlike bacteria, viruses are not killed by Antibiotics, so very different treatment medications are needed as you will see below.
How does HIV get into the Human body ?
There are three main ways that the virus can enter the body and then cause HIV-AIDS; –
1.From unprotected Sexual contacts.
This is the most common method of spread. It can occur when the sexual secretions of an infected individual come in contact with the genital, rectal or oral mucus membranes of another uninfected individual.
The risk of transmission of HIV is greatly reduced by the regular use of Latex Condoms, (up to 85 percent), but curiously it has been found that the use of spermicides may actually increase the chance of transmission.
2. From blood or blood products.
If blood or blood products that are from an individual infected with HIV, or otherwise somehow contaminated with HIV, and then comes in contact with an open wound – or is somehow injected into a non-infected person, then transmission of the virus can occur fairly easily.
This is particularly important as regards Intravenous Drug users, Hemophiliacs ( who often may require blood transfusions), or in Third World countries where injection needles may be re-used, or donated blood may not be effectively checked for HIV before being given.
Similarly tattoos, piercings or similar procedures carry a risk, especially if very strict sterilization procedures are not carried out.
Curiously, although saliva, urine and tears may carry small amounts of HIV from affected individuals, they do not appear to cause any risk.
Another concern that has been raised is mosquito bites – but the virus cannot be transmitted this way.
3. From Mother-to-child.
There is a very high risk of transmission of the virus from an affected mother to her unaffected child.
Either whilst the child is in the uterus, or at childbirth, or from breastfeeding.
In such cases, where an HIV positive mother becomes pregnant, she is usually given specific anti-HIV-AIDS medications, is advised to deliver by Caesarian birth, and also to avoid breast feeding.
What happens after HIV gets into the body ?
The infection by HIV follows a fairly standard 4 step process;
The First or Incubation Stage that rapidly follows infection does not give rise to any signs or symptoms – in fact everything seems normal.
However, during this stage the virus is gradually reproducing more and more and spreading throughout the body, but in relatively small numbers.
This Incubation Stage lasts for a varying period of days, and then blends into the Second Stage, where the virus reproduces at an enormous rate.
The Second or Acute Infection Stage lasts usually about 28 days, and is marked by rapid reduplication of the virus in the bloodstream, that occurs in the 2 to 4 weeks following the exposure to the virus that caused infection.
This huge increase in the virus load can often be as high as several million individual viruses per cubic centimeter of blood – or in other words trillions upon trillions throughout the whole body.
This huge number of viruses attack the White Blood Cells – specifically the leukocytes of a particular kind called CD4 T cells, and kill them in huge numbers, causing a marked drop in the CD4 T cell count.
(See the page called Immune System if you wish to learn more about these CD4 T cells)
The body then reacts by producing a different kind of White Blood Cell – called CD8+ T cells, these break down the CD4 T cells that are infected with the HIV, and also produce Antibodies against the virus.
It is these specific HIV antibodies that form the basis for the HIV Test. Once the antibody level has begun to rise, then the HIV test becomes Positive, and remains so thereafter.
During this 2 to 4 week period almost all affected persons will feel as if they have an influenza type illness, often with headaches, fever, sore throat, malaise, swollen glands, muscle pains, and sometimes nausea and vomiting.
These symptoms are similar to influenza, mononucleosis and several other infectious diseases, so are often not recognized as being the first stage of an HIV infection – this is unfortunate because the person affected is much more infectious, and more easily able to spread the virus to others at this stage.
Here is a micro-photograph of HIV cells budding from a lymphocyte – the green dots are the virus, and the many round bumps on the blue lymphocyte surface are where the virus is being produced and released.
Near the end of this stage the CD8+ T cells begin to get the upper hand, and destroy many of the infected CD4 T cells – the body produces more CD4 T cells as a result, and the CD4 T cell level comes nearer to normal.
(During the earlier part of this stage the CD4 T cell count may have been lowered from its normal level of about 1200 cells per micro liter of blood, down to below 400, but the action of the CD8+ T cells usually will bring the level back towards 800 or so).
The Third Stage now starts – the so called Latency Stage.
This in effect is the stage where the body is able to keep the virus within reasonable limits, mainly by the actions of the CD8+ T and CD4 T cells.
Depending on many factors – such as the general health and state of nutrition , age and other chronic infections or disorders – this stage may last anywhere from two weeks to 10 years.
During this time the virus is slowly spreading, especially in the lymph glands and the rest of the lymphatic system.
There are also free viruses which gradually attack more and more of the CD4 T cells, until enough of these are infected and destroyed that their count slowly falls.
When the level of the CD4 T cells falls below 200 cells per micro liter, this indicates the beginning of the Fourth Stage.
The Fourth Stage starts when the CD4 T cell count has fallen below 200.
At this level the Immune System is so affected that it is unable to effectively fight off pathogens – particularly bacteria, yeasts and funguses and other viruses.
This Stage is classified as the beginning of HIV-AIDS – (or Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome.)
Early on in this stage there is moderate but unexplained weight loss, and respiratory infections, skin rashes, mouth ulcers and prostate problems are frequently seen.
Common infections (that the body would normally be able to fight off), cause infections instead, because of the severely impaired Immune System.
Infections by yeasts such as Candida become common, and Tuberculosis becomes more likely.
Later Herpes infections become common, and also a particular kind of skin tumor called a Kaposi ’s sarcoma is often seen.
These “Secondary infections” are what kill the HIV-AIDS infected patient in by far the majority of cases.
In the final stages, it is most often some form of pneumonia that causes the death of the patient.
How great is the risk of getting an HIV-AIDS infection from someone who has it ?
First of all, I should make it very clear to you that casual physical contact with infected individuals, such as shaking hands etc., will not cause HIV-AIDS transmission.
Also there is a belief in some parts of the world that sex with a virgin will cure HIV-AIDS – and that HIV only infects Homosexual men or intravenous drug users, this is totally incorrect.
Other misconceptions are that any act of anal intercourse between gay men can lead to AIDS infection, and that open discussion of homosexuality and HIV in schools will lead to increased rates of homosexuality and AIDS.
There has to be one of the forms of transmission of HIV as I detailed near the top of this page, in order to become infected with HIV-AIDS.
As regards the relative risks of these, I think that the following list should be clear to you –
This list shows the commonly accepted risk of getting infected by HIV from each of the different activities per 10,000 exposures to each infected source –
(For example – if you were to receive 10,000 blood transfusions from an infected source, then your high probability of being infected with HIV is in 9000 of them,
Or sharing a needle for drug use with an infected individual gives a certainty of infection in 67 out of 10,000 needle shares – but you never know WHICH 67 of the 10,000 needle shares will give it to you !!)
Blood Transfusion from infected source………..9000 of 10,000 exposures
Childbirth from an infected mother…………………..2,500 of 10,000 births
Needle sharing injection drug use……………………….67 of 10,000 shares
Percutaneous “needle stick”………………………………..30 of 10,000 needle sticks
Receptive anal intercourse without condom……………50 of 10,000 intercourse events
Insertive anal intercourse without condom…………… 6.5 of 10,000 intercourse events
Penis/vaginal intercourse (woman) without condom……10 of 10,000 intercourse events
Penis/vaginal intercourse (man) without condom………. 5 of 10,000 intercourse events
Receptive oral intercourse (man/man) no condom………. 1 of 10,000 intercourse events
Insertive oral intercourse (man/man) no condom.………0.5 of 10,000 intercourse events
Although some of these seem to be relatively “low risk”….for example, only 5 out of 10,000 for vaginal intercourse for a man… there is no way of knowing which 5 times of the 10,000 are the ones that gave the infection…one could very easily be the very first time !!
How can HIV-AIDS be treated ?
It should be made very clear to you that there is, at present, NO treatment that CURES HIV-AIDS.
Similarly, despite lots of research in many countries, over the last 20 years or so, there is no Vaccine to give you protection against HIV-AIDS.
Regular and correct latex condom use cuts the chance of HIV transmission by up to 85 percent, and being responsible about sex is of supreme importance.
It is certainly a case of “Prevention is better than Cure”….as there is no cure !
Through the years various medications have been tried as a cure, but nothing has proved effective, the only thing that you are able to do with medications at present is slow down the progression of the disease.
The standard treatment at the present time is a class of drugs called Antiretrovirals, (there has been some evidence to show that if they are given immediately after exposure to HIV then they may prevent an HIV infection).
But for an established infection they can only slow down the progression of HIV-AIDS
Here is a picture of one of these Antiretroviral drugs, called Abacavir
They are usually given as a combination or “cocktail” of at least three differing Antiretroviral drugs.
Usually given at least once daily, and make up a treatment regime that is known as HAART – which stands for Highly Active Anti Retroviral Therapy.
The problem is that this therapy is very expensive, therefore many patients in Third World Countries are unable to afford it, and it often causes severe side effects that result in patients stopping taking it.
Moreover there is increasing resistance by the HIV-AIDS to these HAART drugs, so a constant search is on for newer alternative drugs.
Especially as the HAART drugs appear to be only effective for about half of the patients, depending on many variables such as side effects, allergies to the drugs, viral drug resistance, or failure to take the drugs as prescribed.
The HAART drugs, or similar medications, must be taken by an infected HIV-AIDS individual for life – if they stop taking them then the virus reappears again, and is then often resistant to the HAART drugs.
However these medications have made a huge difference to the lives of those infected with HIV-AIDS.
With early treatment the average life span of an infected individual can be up to 20 years from the time of infection, if continually taking the HAART medications –
As opposed to –With NO treatment the average lifespan from the time of infection is only about 10 years !
So,in summary, there is at present, no cure for this worldwide disease that now affects more than 35 million people, and has already killed a further 25 million since it was first recognized.
As you have seen above, the only hope at present is to slow the progression of HIV-AIDS in some way – either by using HAART, or other Alternative Therapies.
Several that have been found to be helpful – such as daily doses of Selenium and a few herbs – I have outlined in my page called Immune System
All of these Alternative Medicine Therapies act by boosting the Immune system to produce more CD4 T cells, and thereby help to slow the progress of HIV-AIDS.
One other important resource that can easily and cheaply do the same thing is Daily Meditation….which brings you neatly back to the ‘parent page’ to this one where I tell you all about HIV-AIDS and Meditation.
To go to that page click HERE