HIV/AIDS

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that leads to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). HIV primarily attacks the immune system, the body’s defense system, making the patient extremely vulnerable to opportunistic infections (OI’s), which are infections that occur in people who have weakened immune systems.

HIV primarily infects and destroys immune cells called “CD4 T-cells”. Healthy individuals have a CD4 cell count between 600 and 1,200 cells per microliter of blood. HIV patients who are not receiving treatment have less than 600 CD4 cells per microliter of blood. AIDS patients, who have CD4 cell counts that are lower than 200, have the greatest risk of developing opportunistic infections that may be fatal.

Transmission

HIV is transmitted from person to person via bodily fluids including blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. Therefore, it can be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person, by sharing needles/syringes with someone who is infected, through breastfeeding, during vaginal birth, by accidental contact with blood bearing the virus (as in accidental needle sticks in health care workers) and, less commonly (and rare in countries where blood is screened for HIV antibodies), through transfusions with infected blood. More about HIV Transmission

Symptoms

Many patients experience no symptoms when they first become infected with HIV. After one or two months, an estimated 80-90%of HIV patients develop flu-like symptoms including

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Enlarged lymph nodes.

These symptoms usually disappear after one week to one month and are often mistaken for another viral infection, such as the flu. More about HIV Symptoms

Although treatment can slow the progression of HIV, nearly all patients eventually develop AIDS. Once the patient’s CD4 T-cell count is less than 200 cells per microliter of blood, their condition has progressed to AIDS, the final stage of the disease. Some patients are diagnosed with AIDS after they develop an AIDS-defining illness, such as Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (formerly called Pneumocystis carinii or PCP), tuberculosis, or wasting syndrome, to name a few. More about AIDS Symptoms

Testing

HIV is diagnosed after HIV antibodies or HIV itself is detected in the patient’s body. As soon as the virus enters the body, the immune system produces antibodies, or proteins that detect and bind to HIV.

The technology of HIV tests has evolved over the years. Oral rapid testing is common and is done from an oral swab instead of a blood draw. It allows for test results in about 20 minutes. If a test comes back positive or inconclusive, it is recommended that a blood test be done to clarify or confirm the results. In June of 2010, a test developed by Abbott Labs which can detect both HIV antibodies and a particular antigen (protein) that is produced by the virus soon after infection was approved by the FDA. This test will make earlier detection possible. More about HIV/AIDS Testing

Treatments

Currently, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS. HIV patients typically receive a combination of antiretroviral drugs, called “highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART)”, because it has been proven that by attacking the different strains of the virus at different stages of its lifecycle by different classes of drugs, there is more likelihood of controlling replication and mutation, increasing T-cell counts, and reducing viral load, ideally to an undetectable level. HAART is a combination of at least three drugs from at least two different classes. More about HIV/AIDS Treatment

Many new HIV drugs are under investigation. Currently in development are several nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) which are hoped to be effective if patients have developed resistence to older NRTIs.  More about HIV/AIDS Research

Alternative Treatments

Alternative treatments have been shown to produce positive results, as well, especially in helping patients deal with side effects of pharmaceuticals. SafePositive.com provides an extensive library of such treatments, and endorses exploring these alternative solutions with a licensed physician. More about HIV/AIDS Alternative Treatments

Pregnancy

Babies born to HIV-infected mothers may become infected during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. Therefore, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all pregnant women get tested for HIV. More about HIV/AIDS and Pregnancy


Selected References
AIDS.org. www.aids.org. Accessed March 29, 2009.
American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). www.amfar.org. Accessed March 29, 2009.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). www.cdc.gov. Accessed March 29, 2009.
Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. www.pedaids.org. Accessed March 29, 2009.
Halperin DT, Steiner MJ, Cassell MM, et al. The time has come for common ground on preventing sexual transmission of HIV. Lancet. 2004 Nov 27-Dec 3;364(9449):1913-5.
Loutfy MR, Antoniou T, Shen S, et al. Virologic and immunologic impact and durability of enfuvirtide-based antiretroviral therapy in HIV-infected treatment-experienced patients in a clinical setting. HIV Clin Trials. 2007 Jan-Feb;8(1):36-44.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAD). www.niaid.nih.gov. Accessed March 29, 2009.
Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. www.naturalstandard.com. Copyright © 2009. Accessed March 29, 2009.
Rigopoulos D, Gregoriou S, Paparizos V, et al. AIDS in pregnancy, part II: Treatment in the era of highly activeantiretroviral therapy and management of obstetric, anesthetic, and pediatric issues. Skinmed. 2007 Mar-Apr;6(2):79-84.
The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource. www.thebody.com. Accessed March 29, 2009.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). www.fda.gov. Accessed March 29, 2009.
Vrouenraets SM, Wit FW, van Tongeren J, et al. Efavirenz: a review. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2007 Apr;8(6):851-71.