Over 30 million people worldwide are infected with HIV.

In this article:

What is HIV & AIDS?

Suggested origins of the virus

Diagnosis

Treatment

Advice & Support

What is HIV & AIDS?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a powerful virus that replicates itself and multiplies, despite attempts by the body’s immune system to destroy it.

HIV causes infections that can lead to a range of symptoms.

Over time, HIV destroys the white cells in the body which are there to fight viruses and bacteria. AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) then develops.

People can be infected with HIV through:

Unprotected sex (vaginal/anal/oral)

Blood transfusions

Donated organs

Sharing needles

Mother-to-baby – passing the infection on, breastfeeding, etc.

Symptoms of HIV include:

Swollen glands

Fever

Muscular and skeletal pain

Tiredness and sometimes overwhelming fatigue

Sore throat

Headache

Nausea

Mouth ulcers and sores

Cold sores

Genital ulcers

Problems with the oesophagus (swelling, ulcers, difficulty swallowing)

Body and face rash

AIDS is the latter stage of HIV. It is a life-threatening condition because the immune system has now stopped working.

Symptoms and associated conditions of AIDS include:

Pneumonia

Vaginal thrush

Thrush in the mouth

Tuberculosis

Fever

Heavy cough

Diarrhoea

Weight loss

Sweating and shivering

Sight problems

Dementia

Note: AIDS can also lead to various cancers.

Suggested origins of the virus
In the late 1970s there was a sudden rise in demand for chimpanzee meat in Asia. As a result, African hunters hunted down chimpanzees en masse. The HIV virus is thought to have developed as a result of human blood mixing with chimpanzee blood during and after the killings.

In the 1980s, as the first few cases of HIV became apparent in Africa, healthcare professionals struggled to understand the disease. In fact, the symptoms of HIV can be so similar to conditions such as heavy flu or glandular fever, that treatment for these was administered instead.

Within a few years, HIV and AIDS had become a global pandemic as the virus spread across Africa and beyond.

Diagnosis
If you think you may have been at risk of HIV infection (or if you are suffering from the aforementioned symptoms of HIV), go to your local genitourinary medicine clinic (GUM) immediately. They will take a blood test in order to establish a confirmed diagnosis. The test results usually take about 6 weeks to come through.

Treatment
There is no cure for HIV and AIDS. Treatment is intended to slow the progress of the disease. After being diagnosed with HIV, you will be referred to an HIV clinic. There, treatment options will be explained to you. These can include:

A combination of anti-HIV drugs

Advice regarding adopting a healthy lifestyle – to try to maintain as strong an immune system as possible. This is to include a healthy diet, regular exercise and stopping smoking

Emotional support

Unfortunately, although the combined medication can be extremely effective, there may be a number of side effects to taking them. These include:

Diarrhoea

Bouts of intense tiredness and prolonged periods of overwhelming fatigue

Nausea

Suddenly altered moods, and mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression

Rashes

Irregular weight-gain and weight-loss in different parts of the body (rather than to the body overall)

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