Most of us paid little attention during sex education classes in school or college, if we were fortunate enough to have such sessions. After all, as a teen, you were more interested in tips on how to get laid, rather than on how to prevent HIV/AIDS and other STDs. Yes, when you have your whole life ahead of you, you can’t help but feel invincible. Unfortunately for you, the HIV virus is not age discriminatory and it can even infect babies. In fact, millennials in India should be most concerned about AIDS & HIV infection, as UNICEF lists India among six countries with the highest numbers of HIV-positive adolescents. This World AIDS Day we encourage you to learn more about the infection to better protect yourself and those you love, and to simply a better informed human being!
It would be easy to confuse HIV and AIDS under normal circumstances, but this problem is further compounded by misinformation, myths, and a general lack of awareness. As the two diagnoses go together, they are often used interchangeably to describe the same disease, but they are not the same.
Differences Between HIV & AIDS
HIV – There is a clear difference in the meanings of the terms themselves, as HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The term also gives clues about what the virus does, which is weakens human immunity, making it increasingly ineffective.
AIDS – AIDS on the other hand stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome and describes the condition that develops as a result of infection with the HIV virus. The condition is extremely complex, with a wide range of symptoms because of the very nature of the disease in which the infected individual becomes vulnerable to varied infections and conditions like tuberculosis, cancer, pneumonia, herpes, nephropathy, and so on.
HIV – HIV infection no longer has AIDS as the inevitable outcome, thanks to developments in modern medicine. This means that an individual infected with the HIV virus can spend years or even the rest of his/her life without developing AIDS.
AIDS – While HIV infection does not mean that you have AIDS, the presence of AIDS implies infection with HIV. There is no known cure for HIV infection or the ensuing AIDS disease.
HIV – During the acute infection stage, which is a fortnight to a month following infection, the infected individual will experience flu-like symptoms that last very briefly. The infection then moves into the latent stage and will remain asymptomatic. In some cases, and with treatment, HIV infection may not even progress to AIDS.
AIDS – In cases where HIV infection progresses to AIDS, which is actually the last stage of the infection, the patient starts to experience frequent bouts of illness with colds, flus, fungal infection, chronic fatigue, muscle loss, weight loss, breathing problems, and so on. Because of diminished immunity, an AIDS patient becomes extremely vulnerable to various infections, leading to complications that can turn fatal.
HIV – Blood and saliva tests are commonly used to detect HIV infection, as they can reveal the presence of antibodies to the virus. The human immune system only begins producing these antibodies some time after infection, which is why such tests are only accurate if used a few weeks after exposure to the virus. New HIV antigen tests can reveal infection within a few days, as they look for antigens that are produced by the virus.
AIDS – To diagnose AIDS, a patient infected with HIV will have to undergo tests to measure CD4+T-cell count. This is a type of T helper cell, that plays an important role in immune function. If CD4+ T-cell count drops below a certain threshold it confirms the AIDS diagnosis. The onset of ‘opportunistic’ infections like respiratory diseases and yeast infections can also lead to an AIDS diagnosis.
5. Patient Outcomes
HIV – While a positive diagnosis of HIV infection is never welcome, patient outcomes have greatly improved in the last two decades. Although the infection remains irreversible, disease progression can be significantly delayed or prevented and many patients can continue to live relatively normal healthy lives.
AIDS – The outlook for patients with AIDS is still bleak as this is the final stage of infection in which immunity has been severely compromised. Because of high susceptibility to various infections, patients have low quality of life and there are complications that can eventually result in death.
Recent studies have clearly demonstrated that HIV patients can enjoy normal life expectancy, if the infection is detected early and if treatment is initiated before immunity is irreparably damaged. Another study also showed that early treatment for HIV infected patients could reduce the risk of spreading infection to partners.
So, while researchers race against the clock to find a vaccine or possible cure for the infection, you need to do your bit too. The dissemination of information on AIDS and HIV infection is crucial to tackling the disease, as increased awareness and early detection can make all the difference in controlling its spread and improving patient outcomes.