Notes on the symptoms, prevention and treatment of AIDS

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AIDS, an acronym for the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is a fatal illness caused by a retrovirus known as the Human-immune-Deficiency (HIV) which breaks down the body’s immune system. Thus, HIV is the name of a virus and Aids is the name of the disease. Normally, the immune system fights off infection and certain other diseases. When the system fails, a person with Aids can develop a variety of life threatening illnesses.

The term Aids refers only to the last stage of the HIV infection. Everyone who has HIV infection will develop Aids over a period of time depending upon their general health and natural defense mechanism of the body. The incubation period for this disease is about a few months to 6 years or even more. The virus can lie silent in the body for many years. Thus, an individual can be infected with HIV for several years without any sign and symptoms and look and feel perfectly healthy.

Symptoms

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When one gets Aids, there can be a wide range of symptoms, all of which are due to the body’s diminished ability to fight diseases. The symptoms of Aids are divided into major and minor symptoms. For the purposes Aids surveillance an adult or adolescent is considered to have Aids, if at least two of the following major signs are present in combination with at least one of the minor signs listed below:

Major Signs –

  • Weight loss of more than 10% of his normal body weight
  • Chronic diarrhea for more than a month.
  • Prolonged fever for more than a month.

Minor signs

  • Persistent cough for more than a month.
  • Generalized purity dermatitis.
  • History of herpes zoster.
  • Chronic progressive or disseminated herpes simplex infection.
  • Enlargement of the lymph nodes in various parts of the body.

Modes of Transmission:

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Following are the modes of transmission

Sexual Transmission:

Aids is first and foremast a sexually transmitted disease. Any vaginal, anal or oral sex can spread Aids. Every single act of unprotected intercourse with an HIV-infected person exposes the uninfected partner to the risk of infection.

Blood Transfusion:

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Aids is also transmitted by contaminated blood transfusion of blood. Contaminated blood is highly infective when introduced in large quantities directly into the blood stream. The risk of contacting HIV infection from transfusion of a unit of infected blood is estimated to be over 95 per cent.

Intravenous drug injections:

This mode has a very high risk of transmission of HIV especially among drug abusers who share needles to inject addictive drugs. Intravenous injection with sterilized needles and syringes has no risk of transmitting HIV. Any skin piercing can transmit the virus if the instruments used have not been sterilized and have previously been used on an infected person.

Mother-to-child Transmission:

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HIV may pass from an infected mother to her fetus, through the placenta or to her infant during delivery or by breast-feeding. The risk of infection transmission is higher if the mother is newly infected or if she has already developed Aids.

Modes by which HIV is not transmitted:

It is also important to know that HIV infection is not transmitted through the following causal contact.

  • Shaking hands
  • Hugging
  • dry kissing
  • Sneezing, coughing
  • Mosquito bites
  • Toilet sharing
  • Eating from the same utensils.
  • Insect bites
  • Sharing of telephones
  • Playing together
  • Traveling together in buses & trains
  • Sharing cups on cutlery
  • Living in the same room
  • Donating blood, aseptically

Treatment

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At present there is no vaccine or cure for treatment of HIV infection/Aids. The only drug proved clinically effective against HIV is zidovudine (AZT) but along with a combination of two or three medicines is recommended for effective treatment of HIV infection. AZT increases duration of survival of Aids patients. It also reduces severity and suffering due to opportunistic infections.

Prevention

HIV/Aids can be prevented in five main ways-

  • Being in a mutually faithful sexual relationship.
  • Correct and consistent use of condoms for every sexual act, irrespective of the type of sex is essential.
  • Checking all the blood and blood products for HIV infection before transfusion.
  • Avoiding drug abuse, especially injectable drugs.
  • Sterilised needles and syringes should always be used for injections, especially intravenous injection.
  • Reducing the risk of mother-to-child transmission by giving appropriate treatment to pregnant women who has HIV infection.

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