What is HIV

Basics of HIV: Human Immunodeficiency Virus

Key points

  • HIV is a virus that attacks the body's natural defense system, the immune system.
  • If HIV is not treated, a person's immune system will deteriorate to the point where it will be unable to fight life-threatening infections and diseases.
  • Further, AIDS is a combination of symptoms and illnesses that occur at the last stage of HIV infection.
  • If you get tested for HIV on a regular basis, your healthcare expert will prescribe antiretroviral therapy for the better maintenance of the infection.

What exactly is HIV?

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that causes infection in lymph nodes. It is a virus that infects the blood cells of a person. HIV affects the immune system, specifically the T-cells (CD4 cells) that fight infection. Simply put, the virus destroys T-cells, causing an HIV infection to render a person's immune system incapable of fighting illnesses and infections. With proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. If you choose not to think about this disease seriously you better think twice. Delay in treatment can bring severe consequences. 

Where did HIV come from?

Infection with HIV in humans was first discovered in a Central African chimpanzee. When humans hunted these chimpanzees for meat and came into contact with their contaminated blood, the chimpanzee variant of the virus (named simian immunodeficiency virus, or SIV) was likely conveyed to humans. HIV may have spread from chimpanzees to humans as early as the late 1800s, according to research. HIV moved slowly across Africa and then into other parts of the world over decades.

Does HIV show any symptoms?

Depending on the stage of HIV infection, the symptoms may differ. Many HIV patients do not develop any systems until the disease is advanced. In fact, the virus can persist in your body for up to ten years or even longer without creating any symptoms. Some patients get flu-like symptoms within 2 to 4 weeks of infection (called acute HIV infection). The signs and symptoms could last from a few days to several weeks. Possible symptoms of infection include:

  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Rash
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat

Some people may not get sick during acute HIV infection. These symptoms don’t mean you have an HIV infection. Other illnesses can also cause these symptoms. See a healthcare provider if you think you have these symptoms.

How is HIV transmitted?

Only coming into direct touch with certain body fluids from an Infection person with a detectable viral load can give you HIV. These are the fluids:

  • Blood
  • Semen (cum) and pre-seminal fluid
  • Rectal fluids
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Breast milk

The HIV in these fluids must enter the circulation of an HIV-negative individual by a mucous membrane, open cuts or sores, or direct injection to cause transmission.

Listed below points show that HIV cannot be transmitted by all bodily fluids:-

  • Sharing drinks/utensils or exchanging saliva.
  • Coming into contact with the tears, sneezes, or perspiration of an HIV-positive individual.
  • Hugging, shaking hands, or touching shared objects like silverware, cups, or toilet seats are all examples of common physical contact.
  • Air and water.

How does HIV spread from one person to the next?

HIV can only be spread through certain types of activity. The following are the most persistent ways:- 

  • Having vaginal or anal intercourse with an HIV-positive person without using a condom or taking HIV prevention or treatment medications. Anal intercourse has a greater danger than vaginal sex.
  • Sharing needles and other injectable drug equipment with someone who has HIV.

Less common ways

  • The use of HIV drugs and other efforts has reduced the risk of HIV transmission from mother to child.
  • Getting a needle or other sharp object contaminated with HIV. This is primarily a threat to healthcare personnel. The danger is really minimal.


  • Contact with HIV-infected blood or blood-contaminated bodily fluids through broken skin, wounds, or mucous membranes.
  • Receiving HIV-contaminated blood transfusions, blood products, or organ/tissue transplants. Because the blood supply and donated organs and tissues are thoroughly tested, the risk is exceedingly low these days.
  • An HIV-negative person's chances of contracting the virus during oral intercourse with an HIV-positive partner are extremely low.

What are the Stages of HIV?

When HIV-positive patients do not receive therapy, they usually go through three stages. HIV medication, on the other hand, can slow or stop the disease from progressing. Progress to Stage 3 is less common because of advances in treatment.

Stage 1: Acute HIV infection 

  • HIV is present in the blood and is quite contagious.
  • Some people experience flu-like symptoms. This is the body's natural defense mechanism against infection.
  • Some people, however, may not get sick straight away.
  • If you experience flu-like symptoms and suspect you've been exposed to HIV, consult a healthcare expert and ask for a test to rule out an acute infection.

Stage 2: Chronic (long-lasting) HIV infection

  • Asymptomatic HIV infection or clinical latency are terms used to describe this stage.
  • HIV is active, although it reproduces at a very low rate.
  • During this time, people may not experience any symptoms or get sick.
  • This stage could span a decade or longer if you don't take HIV medication
  • During this stage, people can spread HIV.
  • The amount of HIV in the blood (known as viral load) increases as this phase progresses, but the CD4 cell count decreases. As the virus levels in the body rise, the person may develop symptoms and progress to Stage 3.
  • People who take their HIV medication as prescribed by a healthcare provider, don’t easily reach Stage 3.

Stage 3: AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)

  • This is the most severe stage of HIV infection.
  • People with AIDS have severely weakened immune systems, and as a result, they are susceptible to a growing range of serious infections known as opportunistic infections.
  • When a person's CD4 cell count falls below 200 cells/mm or they contract certain opportunistic diseases, they are diagnosed with AIDS.
  • AIDS patients can have a high viral load and be extremely contagious.

How can I keep myself safe from HIV?

You can protect yourself from HIV in a variety of methods, including:

  • Use a condom during sexual intercourse.
  • PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) medications are easily accessible. Take this as directed by your healthcare provider, it can help you avoid contracting HIV through intercourse.
  • Needles, syringes, and other injecting equipment should not be shared.
  • Discuss with your healthcare professional if the blood product you are receiving (blood transfusion, organ, or tissue transplant) has been tested for HIV 
  • If you're a new or expectant mother with HIV, getting treatment will minimize the risk of HIV transmission to your kid during pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation.

If you suspect you've been exposed to HIV, you might be eligible to get PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), a course of antiretroviral medications, which is used after you've been exposed to HIV to prevent infection. PEP must be begun within 72 hours after the exposure, for effectiveness.

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