Sexually-transmitted diseases have been around for thousands of years, but they weren’t always taken seriously until HIV made its first appearance in the 20th century. Now, HIV is one of the most feared sexually-transmitted diseases, and even though new treatment strategies give these patients quality of life, a cure has not yet been found.
In this article, we’re covering what you need to know about HIV and AIDS, how are the infection and the disease suspected and diagnosed, and what you can do about it.
What is HIV, and how is it different from AIDS?
HIV is short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a retrovirus, and there are two strains, HIV-1 and HIV-2. The virus is transmitted through blood contact, sexual intercourse, or mother-to-child transmission during birth and breastfeeding. Depending on the country, one or the other route of infection will be more prevalent. Being a sexually-transmitted disease, HIV infection is often accompanied by other diseases transmitted by sexual intercourse, especially herpes virus, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
Despite having two main species of HIV and each one with multiple subtypes of the disease, all of them cause similar signs and symptoms. What is different is the distribution of the subtypes worldwide and their response to a future vaccine. HIV-1 has a higher transmission risk and progresses more rapidly into acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS.
AIDS is the manifestation of HIV, which only shows up when the virus has infected the patient for some time. After this latency time in which the virus replicates, the patient’s immune system is affected by the disease and only then is he diagnosed with AIDS. So, a patient can have an HIV infection without AIDS. But patients with diagnosed AIDS are always infected with one of the HIV viruses.
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Once inside the body, HIV causes depletion of white blood cells, especially CD4 cells known as helper T lymphocytes. These cells are fundamental to fighting infections and destroying cancer cells. Thus, HIV patients will have a higher risk of opportunistic infections that other patients do not catch and will have a higher risk of different cancer types.