What is HIV/Aids?

HIV is an acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. In early publications you may see the term HTLV-III or LAV. The term used today is HIV. 

HIV is a virus that attacks parts of the immune system. When the virus enters the body it breaks down parts of the body's defence mechanisms. These defences usually fight bacteria, viruses and fungal infections.

After the virus has been in the body for some time many HIV positive people become ill from opportunistic infections, such as fungal infections, toxoplasmosis and some types of cancer. The ‘seeds' of these infections lie dormant in most people and have no negative effects while the immune system functions well.

Stages of HIV infection: A person who is infected with HIV has HIV infection. HIV infection with symptoms is called ‘symptomatic HIV infection'. Sometimes, however, there are no symptoms. This is called ‘a-symptomatic HIV infection'.

HIV infection can be divided into several stages:

Sudden (acute) HIV infection: About 3 to 6 weeks after becoming infected with the virus most people (but not all) experience a brief illness. The most common symptoms are fever, pain when swallowing, and swollen nymph nodes. There may also be rashes, diarrhoea, coughing and a coating on the tonsils.

A-symptomatic HIV infection: After the sudden (acute) stage most people have no symptoms for many years. Some however do get enlarged lymph nodes in various places on their bodies.

Symptomatic HIV infection: After many years HIV positive people may lose some weight, have fevers, night sweats, general fatigue, enlarged lymph nodes, diarrhoea, oral fungal infections, shingles and increased pain from the outbreak of herpes.

Variations of HIV: These come in two main groups; HIV I and HIV II. In addition to these two there are thousands of virus sub-groups. These subgroups make it difficult to develop a vaccine. The vaccines one hears or reads about are designed to defend HIV positive peoples' immune systems so that they do not develop AIDS.

Symptoms of HIV: There are many HIV symptoms. The most common ones with a sudden (acute) infection are heavy influenza-like symptoms such as fevers, headaches, a sore throat, night sweats and oral fungal infections. With HIV infection these symptoms are stronger than with normal influenza and it takes a longer time to get over them.

The symptoms associated with HIV include an unusually long-lasting fever of 38 - 39 degrees Celsius which rises and falls over a long period. Other symptoms include sweating, rapid unexplained weight loss, a dry cough and continual tiredness. Many HIV positive people experience diarrhoea, nausea, rashes and swollen lymph nodes. Some report feelings of depression. Problems with respiratory passages, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, can also occur.

What is AIDS?

AIDS is short for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. A 'syndrome' is a group of symptoms that define one particular illness. AIDS is the term used for a number of illnesses. The thing these illnesses have in common is that they occur because the immune system's defences are weakened by HIV.

What must happen in order to get the AIDS diagnosis?

The criteria for an AIDS diagnosis varies from country to country. A typical feature of AIDS is that opportunistic infections occur more frequently and can be life-threatening. The transition from HIV-infection to AIDS is gradual and takes some time. As a rule, one significant on-going infection, or several smaller persistent infections, must occur before an AIDS diagnosis is made.


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