AIDS is the final stage of HIV when your body can no longer cope with the virus and you suffer life-threatening infections.
To understand how you are at risk of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) you also need to fully understand how to spot the symptoms of the HIV disease.
The most common way of getting HIV is through unprotected sex with a carrier – either vaginal, anal or oral. It can also be contracted via contaminated needles, a blood transfusion or from an infected mother to a baby before birth or by breastfeeding.
Common HIV symptoms
You can only find out if you have the HIV virus by taking an HIV test, but there are some common prolonged symptoms which may prompt you to check:
Joint and muscle pain
Such symptoms can last for a number of weeks but then lie dormant for years, so you should take this prolonged initial bout as a sign you need to have an HIV virus test, which usually takes the form of a blood test.
Treatments are improving and will help you live a relatively normal life, but if you ignore the initial symptoms then the late-stage infections associated with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) could suddenly occur — and with fatal consequences.
Such late-stage symptoms of the HIV disease include:
White spots on your tongue or mouth
Shortness of breath
Fever above 37 degrees C (100 degrees Fahrenheit)
Swollen glands that last for more than three weeks
Can HIV and AIDS be treated?
Immune system protection is a key factor in your defence against AIDS. Your infection-fighting CD4 cells will be regularly measured and if the cell count falls below 350 you may be offered antiretrovirals (ARVs).
ARVs will slow down the spread of the virus. As HIV can quickly become resistant to just one, you will be offered a combination of different ARVs.
Take care. ARVs can react in unpredictable ways if combined with herbal remedies like St John’s Wort and recreational drugs such as cocaine.
Immune system maintenance also requires regular exercise, healthy eating and no smoking.
You will also be advised to get a jab each autumn to protect yourself against flu and there are a number of other preventative tips such as taking care when you are near animals as they can carry parasites that cause human infections, and washing your hands thoroughly after going to the toilet and before and after food preparation.
Opportunistic infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, hepatitis and the fungal lung infection pneumocystis pneumonia are commonly associated with life-threatening AIDS because the normal medicines used to combat them no longer work effectively.
However, if you stick to your HIV therapy and live a healthy lifestyle while monitoring your CD4 cell levels, a growing body of evidence suggests you can live a relatively normal life for many years.
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