AIDS is the last phase of an HIV infection. It is characterized by a severely weakened immune system, which can make an otherwise simple or acute infection life-threatening. The body is unable to fight off foreign invaders, which can cause extensive damage to the organs
To confirm whether HIV has reached the AIDS stage, a blood test to confirm low white blood cell counts will be ordered. Low white blood cells means that the patient will have decreased immunity against common viruses, like the cold or flu. Oftentimes, these patients will present with swollen lymph nodes that last for months, persistent coughs, night sweats, rapid weight loss, among other symptoms.
Transmission of the HIV virus usually occurs due to risky behaviors, such as having sex without a condom or sharing needles. HIV tests should be done 40 to 60 days after any risky behavior, since there is a window period of 21 to 90 days until the virus can be detected.
Main symptoms of AIDS
The main symptoms of AIDS only appear if the person doesn’t get any treatment against the HIV virus. They can occur about 8 to 10 years after first being infected with HIV. These symptoms can include:
- Persistent fever;
- Prolonged dry cough and scratchy throat;
- Night sweats;
- Swollen lymph nodes for more than 3 months;
- Headache and difficulty concentrating;
- Pain in the muscles and joints;
- Tiredness, fatigue and loss of energy;
- Fast weight loss;
- Frequent oral or genital yeast infections;
- Persistent diarrhea, nausea or vomiting;
- Reddish spots or sores on the skin.
These symptoms usually occur when HIV viral cells have grown in high quantities, affecting white cell production and the immune system. Opportunistic infections, such as viral hepatitis, tuberculosis, pneumonia or toxoplasmosis, usually also develop at this stage due to the weakened immune system.
How do I know if I am HIV-positive?
To find out if you have been infected with the HIV virus, first you should assess whether you have engaged in any risky behavior, such as unprotected sex or shared syringes. You should also be + aware of symptoms such as fever, general malaise, sore throat and dry cough.
You should get a blood test done 40 to 60 days after any risky behavior to find out if you have HIV. If the test comes back negative you should repeat it after 3 months and again after 6 months.
Treatment for AIDS
There is no cure for AIDS, and therefore life-long treatment will be required once this phase of the HIV infection is reached. The main goals of treatment involve strengthening the immune system to fight any impending virus, and managing growing levels of the virus in the blood.
Ideally, you should start treatment before the HIV infection develops into AIDS. This can be done with a cocktail of different medications such as efavirenz, lamivudine and tenofovir.