People with HIV and AIDS need to live carefully-managed lives to avoid related illnesses and transmission of the virus.
However, one can live full, happy, long lives with the right kind of care and self-care.
In this digital age, healthcare software solutions make it easier to learn more about this disease, keep appointments for antiretroviral treatment, and monitor your health. From sharing information via messaging on healthy sexual behaviors for teens to making self-test kits available to order from the comfort of your home, digital healthcare solutions have come a long way.
Combining the right treatment, compassionate and stigma-free source of information, and the needed support can help people with HIV live a full life.
- 1 What is HIV?
- 2 What is AIDS?
- 3 Opportunistic Infections
- 4 How to prevent opportunistic infections?
- 5 Diagnosis
- 6 Symptoms of Stage 1 HIV
- 7 Where to Take an HIV test?
- 8 HIV Treatment
- 9 Daily Antiretroviral Therapy (ART)
- 10 Stages of HIV
- 11 Stage 1 / HIV
- 12 Chronic HIV / Stage 2
- 13 Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) / Stage 3
- 14 How do HIV/AIDS Medicines Work?
- 15 Types of HIV Medications
- 16 DTx Devices for HIV
- 17 Who is Most Vulnerable to HIV/AIDS?
- 18 The Bottom Line
What is HIV?
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that initially came from infected chimpanzees in the 1800s, and it’s still around today. It slowly spread across Africa and over the rest of the world in the last century. It’s still around because it is transmitted through body fluids like blood, semen, and breast milk.
The virus attacks the body’s immune system. Once it’s in your system, it stays for life. There is no known cure for HIV, and labs have been working on the AIDS cure for decades. But with proper medical care, the symptoms of HIV can be controlled.
At the same time, most people who have HIV feel perfectly fine for years, without any symptoms. So, they may not even know they have it. That is why it’s crucial for everyone, including teens, to learn and understand more about the virus. Knowledge can help you take steps to prevent the disease. If you have HIV, you can take steps to prevent transmission.
What is AIDS?
When HIV is not treated, it leads to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). AIDS is the more severe stage of HIV, stage 3. People with AIDS have immune systems that are badly damaged, making them vulnerable to various illnesses called opportunistic infections (OI).
Usually, people are diagnosed with AIDS when their CD4 (T-cells or infection-fighting WBC) count falls under 200 cells for a milliliter of blood. Or they may develop OIs and get tested for HIV.
Opportunistic infections are some illnesses that are more common in people with HIV, whose immune systems are compromised. Common diseases include candidiasis, cryptococcosis, invasive cervical cancer, Herpes simplex virus, HIV-related encephalopathy, histoplasmosis, lymphoma, tuberculosis, pneumonia, HIV-induced wasting syndrome, etc.
Those who have access to effective HIV treatment are less likely to develop these opportunistic diseases. That is why it’s essential to find a good healthcare provider and use modern technology such as AI-based health monitoring systems to keep an eye on your condition.
Those with us are usually unaware that they’re HIV+, aren’t receiving treatment, or their treatment is not working.
How to prevent opportunistic infections?
There are ways to prevent OIs by consulting your healthcare provider. Some of these include:
- Vaccines and medicines against certain OIs
- Staying safe from other STDs (sexually transmitted diseases)
- Not sharing needles, syringes, etc.
- Limit exposure to germs that could make you seriously sick, such as germs found on animal skin, saliva, and stool
- Don’t eat raw sprouts, raw cheese, and milk, or undercooked eggs
- Don’t drink tap water, untreated water, unfiltered water
You can live a reasonably normal life with HIV and stay safe from OIs by taking precautions, as mentioned above. Speak to your healthcare provider to find out potential opportunities for exposure at work, at home, or on holiday.
The only way to diagnose that you have HIV is to get tested. It’s helpful to know your HIV status since it can help you make decisions to avoid contracting the virus or transmitting it. Access to tests is easier than you think— we will discuss more on that below.
Symptoms of Stage 1 HIV
Within around two to four weeks of contracting acute HIV infection, the patient will likely experience some flu-like symptoms. These symptoms are common, can occur with other illnesses, and are unlikely to raise red flags. You may think you have the flu when you experience chills, fever, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, fatigue, sore throat, mouth ulcers, and swollen lymph nodes.
But some people may not feel sick even with an acute HIV infection. If someone experiences these symptoms lasting for weeks, they should speak to a healthcare provider. The only way to know for sure is to get an HIV test.
Where to Take an HIV test?
If you are pregnant and want to get tested for HIV or fear you may have been exposed, you should:
- Find an HIV testing center near you. Many digital healthcare company apps will lead you to HIV testing services. A simple Google search will help you get started.
- Request a test for recent infection. Different types of tests can detect HIV and also varying stages of advancement. Most antibody tests are designed to see the effects of HIV on your body. Antibodies are proteins your body makes in response to the virus. These can take time to develop. Taking an early infection test will help doctors search for the virus in your body. Only antigen, antibody, or nucleic acid tests (NAT) can diagnose acute HIV infection. The NAT can search for the actual virus in the blood.
- If your test results are positive, don’t panic. See a doctor soon so you can get started on medication to manage HIV. Also, be cautious around people you love. In the early stages of HIV infection, you have a high chance of transmitting the disease to others. Take steps to reduce the risks of transmission.
- If you test negative, you can take pre-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV from taking hold and spreading through your body. The FDA has approved Truvada and Descovy for use as PrEP.
HIV medicine will help reduce the number of viruses in your body. There is no cure for the virus, but it can be controlled. That’s why it’s important not to miss the antiretroviral therapy (ART) for early-stage HIV. Most people can get the virus under control in as little as half a year. Note that the medication won’t stop you from contracting or transmitting other STDs.
Your daily ART medication can:
- Reduce the viral load in your blood. The viral load is the amount of HIV in the blood.
- Keep your CD4 count high so your body doesn’t lose its ability to fight.
- It can reduce the viral load so low that tests can’t detect it. Lower than 200 copies of HIV in a milliliter of blood is considered low.
If your viral load falls with treatment, your treatment is working. You should continue with the medication. If you feel there’s a risk of you stopping your medication, you can seek help from what is called “digital therapeutic devices” or DTx devices to keep you on track.
Stages of HIV
Stage 1 / HIV
Also called acute HIV infection, if left untreated, can progress further. Your medicine can slow down or prevent the progress of the disease. With modern antiretroviral therapy, stage 1 HIV can be well managed.
Chronic HIV / Stage 2
This stage is called clinical latency or asymptomatic infection; HIV is active but reproducing at low rates. Some people may experience no symptoms or get sick. This stage can last for as long as a decade without treatment. But for some people, this stage can further progress faster.
In this phase, people can transmit HIV. To protect loved ones is another reason to stay steady with ART if you have been diagnosed with HIV+. Those who don’t undergo treatment experience a rise in viral load and a fall in CD4 counts. Without ART medication, this stage quickly slips into stage 3.
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) / Stage 3
AIDS is the most severe stage of HIV infection. People with AIDS can have a very high viral load and be very infectious. Without treatment, the survival rate is around 3 years. People with AIDS have such severely damaged immune systems that they are susceptible to a host of opportunistic illnesses.
Symptoms of AIDS vary. But they may include sudden weight loss, night sweats or chronic fever, extreme fatigue, swelling of lymph glands in the neck, groin, and armpits, prolonged diarrhea, sores in the anus, genitals or mouth, pneumonia, pink, brown, purple, or red blotches on the skin, memory loss, depression, and other neurological problems.
These symptoms can be connected to other illnesses as well. That’s why it’s essential to get tested for HIV as soon as you can. Life expectancy falls to under a year without HIV medicine and a deadly opportunistic illness. HIV medicine, on the other hand, can also save lives at this stage. But the earlier you get on the medication, the better.
How do HIV/AIDS Medicines Work?
ART medicines work by reducing the viral load in your body. It gives your immune system some chance to recover. Keeping the virus at bay, these medicines give your white blood cells the chance to fight against them. They also reduce the risk of you spreading the illness to others.
You should take HIV medication if you’re in early HIV infection (first six months after infection), pregnant, have AIDS or have certain HIV-related illnesses.
Types of HIV Medications
There are a few different types of HIV medicines, based on how they work:
- Some medicines block or change the enzymes that HIV needs to make copies of itself;
- NRTIs (nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors) work by blocking reverse transcriptase enzymes
- NNRTIs or non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors bind to the same enzyme and change them later
- Integrase inhibitors block the integrase enzyme
- Protease inhibitors block the protease enzyme
- Some medicines interfere with the virus’s ability to infect immune system cells. These include fusion inhibitors, attachment inhibitors, CCR5 antagonists, and post-attachment inhibitors.
- Some people may take more than one medication together, in the form of multidrug combinations. Pharmacokinetic enhancers can boost drug effectiveness.
DTx Devices for HIV
With antiretroviral therapy for HIV, the patients need to take medicines every day. If a regular schedule is not followed, with missed doses, the virus gets a chance to become resistant. The treatment may not work in such cases.
It’s imperative to stay on schedule with your medication. Many treatments fail because of missed doses or irregularity. That is where DTx devices play a crucial role. These devices remind you to take your medicines, keep your appointments, etc. Studies have shown that digital therapeutic devices encourage people to stick to their ART medication, clinic visits, and self-care. These are plenty of reasons to get on board with digital healthcare solutions.
Who is Most Vulnerable to HIV/AIDS?
HIV can affect anyone irrespective of age, sex, ethnicity, gender, etc. But risk factors are higher in some exceptional circumstances, like;
- In communities where many people have HIV, the virus can spread through shared needles or sex
- In the US, gay and bisexual men, injection drug users, certain communities are more vulnerable
- Anal sex is a high-risk factor for HIV transmission
If an HIV-positive partner takes daily HIV medicine to manage their viral load, they have practically no risk of transmitting the virus to their partners through safe sex.
The Bottom Line
HIV is a manageable infection with timely treatment and vigilance. Since timeliness is important and potentially life-saving, it is important that people talk about HIV and spread accurate knowledge about it.
There are also more prevention tools available today than before. These include preventive pre-exposure prophylaxis, condoms used correctly, HIV medicine as prevention, and safe sex practices.
Social media offer excellent platforms to share information and seek support from peers, especially among teens. Your clinic’s health management software can also help you monitor your health. Self-test kits can encourage self-care, and protecting against transmission can become easier with more knowledge.
Author Bio: Epillo Health Systems is a digital healthcare company based out of Estonia, Europe with patent-pending innovations in 153 countries through the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) and 27 countries of the European Union (EU) through the European Patent Office (EPO), working to transform the Digital Healthcare technology landscape by incorporation the best of Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning, and Blockchain.