What is HIV?

What is HIV?

In 1985, scientists discovered a virus they called HIV. The experts concluded that it was the HIV virus that caused AIDS. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that is transmitted from person to person through the exchange of infected body fluids. Those bodily fluids include:
  • blood
  • semen
  • vaginal secretions
  • breast milk
Ways in which we come into contact with these fluids includes:
  • sexual contact
  • through transfusions of blood or blood products
  • sharing needles to inject drugs
  • during childbirth

Is HIV and AIDS the Same Thing?

HIV is the virus which damages the body's immune system. A damaged immune system leaves our body at risk for those illnesses and infections said to be AIDS defining. Acquiring one of these infections means a person is diagnosed with AIDS. A person can be infected for years without having AIDS. Having HIV infection does not mean you have AIDS. Simply put, HIV and AIDS are not the same thing. 

How Does the HIV Virus Multiply?

Once inside the body the virus attacks specialized immune system cells known as CD4 cells. The HIV virus attaches to these cells and infects them by injecting HIV proteins (DNA and RNA) into the cell. The new HIV virus then infects other CD4 cells as the cycle repeats itself. 

How Does the HIV Virus Harm the Body?

As the HIV virus reproduces, the CD4 cells are damaged, becoming unable to fight infections. As this process continues, the body's immune system weakens and the infected person becomes susceptible to a score of different infections, all capable of making the person sick and in extreme cases can lead to death. 

What Can Be Done to Stop the HIV Virus?

While there is no cure for HIV, medications are now available that diminish the virus's ability to reproduce. This in turn helps the immune system stay healthy and able to fight infection. Keep in mind that these medications can't rid the body entirely of HIV and people can still infect others while on medications. 

What Should I Do To Stay Healthy?

The first step in staying healthy is to find a physician who is experienced in treating HIV. Look for a doctor who is not only current on all available therapies but is receptive to input from you as well. Having a say in your own care is one of the most important aspects of staying healthy. In addition, exercise, a good diet, and reducing risk behaviors will optimize your ability to live a healthy, productive life.

How Do I Know if I'm Winning the Fight?

In order to monitor you HIV disease and the health of your immune system your HIV specialist will draw blood tests after each visit. The two most important tests include:
  • A CD4 or T-Cell Count - The higher the CD4 count, the stronger your immune system. If the CD4 count drops below a certain level, a person is said to have AIDS.
  • Viral Load - This is a direct measurement of the amount of virus in your blood. A lower viral load indicates less viral replication, which means less damage to the immune system.
By assessing these two values and considering your physical health and well-being, the doctor can assess how you are doing in your fight against HIV.

What are Opportunistic Infections?

These are infections that take advantage of the body when the immune system has been damaged or weakened by HIV. Medications are available to help reduce the risk of acquiring opportunistic infections. As the immune system weakens, your risk of becoming sick from an opportunistic infection increases. 

HIV can be managed and a person can live a healthy life if they have the right information. Ask questions, learn all that you can learn about the virus, if you are on medications take them as prescribed and most importantly enjoy life. 

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