What is HIV?
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the human immune system making people more vulnerable to infections and diseases. A person infected with the virus can live with HIV for years without falling ill or exhibiting symptoms. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 44,073 people were diagnosed with HIV in the United Stated in the year 2014. At the end of 2012, approximately 1.2 million people in the United States were infected with the virus. Unfortunately, 13% of these have not been tested and diagnosed, and therefore not receiving the necessary medical care to manage the virus.
The most common mode of transmission of HIV is through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected person. In this case, vaginal secretions or semen are transferred from the infected person transferring the virus to a healthy individual.
Other ways of HIV transmission include the following.
- By sharing injecting equipment such as needles and syringes
- From a mother to their child during pregnancy, birth or through breastfeeding/li>
- Through blood transfusion of blood products pre 1990
What is the relationship between HIV and AIDS?
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the final stage of HIV infection and not everyone who has HIV advances to this stage. It occurs when the immune system is severely damaged leaving one vulnerable to opportunistic infections and cancers that are often life-threatening. When the number of CD4 cells falls below 200 cells per milliliter of blood, one is said to have progressed to AIDS (the average CD4 cells count for a healthy person is between 500 and 1600 cells per milliliter of blood). A person can also be diagnosed with AIDS if they develop one or more opportunistic diseases regardless of their CD4 count.
Is HIV curable?
Though HIV is not curable, it can be managed and treated through medicine known as antiretroviral therapy or ART. With correct administration, this drug can dramatically prolong the lives of HIV-positive people, keeping them healthy and lowering the chances of transmission to other individuals. That said, having HIV does not mean one will die. With prompt diagnosis and treatment, an HIV-positive person can live nearly as long as one who doesn’t have the virus.
After testing and diagnosis, there is the administration of a multi-drug regimen to suppress HIV symptoms and prevent its replication in the blood and subsequent destruction of the immune system. Though there is not yet a cure for HIV, correct administration of these drugs promotes a healthy and long life, slowing down the progression of the virus to AIDS. HIV treatment should commence as soon as one tests positive for the virus to combat its symptoms and associated complications.
There are around 20 drugs currently licensed and used in the treatment of HIV. They can be classified into the following categories:
- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)
- Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)
- Protease inhibitors
- Entry inhibitors
- Fusion inhibitors
- Integrase inhibitors
The drugs in each class differ regarding how they work against HIV. Most people on treatment receive a prescription of a combination of medications from more than one class. This way, the treatment can target HIV in different ways at the same time, making treatment more effective. It also reduces the possibility of developing resistance to any one drug class.
Viral Loads and CD4 Counts
Measurement of response to HIV treatment is by viral load, which is the amount of HIV in the blood and CD4 counts (the number of white blood cells that fight infection per milliliter of blood). Viral loads are usually tested every three to four months during therapy while CD4 count checks occur every three to six months.