What is AIDS? After infection with the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) gradual damage occurs to the body’s immune system. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a term that is used to describe the late stage of HIV, when the immune system has become so damaged by HIV life threatening infections or tumours can develop.
The term AIDS is less widely used because it is too general to describe the many different conditions that can affect somebody with HIV, and with treatment the immune problems that have resulted can be potentially reversed..Specialists now prefer to use the terms advanced or late-stage HIV infection.
How common is it?
HIV is spread through the exchange of bodily fluids. This most commonly happens during unprotected sexual contact, such as vaginal, oral and anal sex. People who inject illegal drugs and share needles are also at risk of catching HIV. The condition can also be spread from a mother to her unborn child (although ante-natal screening of women has dramatically reduced this risk in the UK).
What are the symptoms?
In the initial stage of HIV, known as primary HIV infection, many people develop symptoms, although they might not recognise them at the time. Symptoms usually occur two to six weeks after they are infected with HIV and can include:
swollen glands (nodes)
a blotchy rash
These early symptoms can be very mild, and non-specific, so it is easy to mistake them for another condition.
After the initial symptoms have gone, HIV will often not cause any further symptoms for many years. During this time, the virus is still reproducing and damaging the immune system and left untreated there is a high likelihood of developing a serious, life-threatening condition. It typically takes about 10 years for the virus to damage the immune system in this way.
Possible symptoms of a serious infection caused by a damaged immune system include:
unexplained weight loss
shortness of breath
a fever of above 37C (100F) that lasts a number of weeks
swollen glands that last for more than three months
There is no cure for HIV, but since the 1990s, treatments have been developed that enable most people with HIV to stay well and live relatively normal lives. Although immune damage is partially reversible, it’s important for people who have been at risk of acquiring HIV to be tested, as treatment started before severe immune damage is more effective at preventing life threatening illness.
If you are concerned you may have HIV, you can make an appointment to speak to your local family doctor (GP) or visit your local sexual health clinics, for advice and testing.
How to find Hounslow sexual health services can be found at the following web-site
www.tht.org.uk / 0808 802 1221