We now live in a world that accepts open conversations about HIV and AIDS. Years before, these two topics are taboo; no one dared to speak up regarding all things related to them. People who are confirmed to have HIV infection get discriminated, called names, and are considered unacceptable. It’s a good thing now that more and more people-advocate are standing up, and realizations start sinking in with regard to this viral infection. Let us learn more about HIV, what the difference is between HIV and AIDS, what are the symptoms of AIDS, and what we can do if we contracted this viral infection.
What is HIV, and what is AIDS?
There is a great misunderstanding up to now about the difference between HIV and AIDS. These two terms have been used interchangeably for a long time, and we are here to finally differentiate each one from the other.
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, a tiny microorganism that attacks cells that help the body fight infection, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. That is how any virus assaults our body; it just happened that HIV targets the immune system. HIV is spread by contact with certain bodily fluids of a person with HIV, frequently and most notoriously during unprotected sex (sex without a condom or HIV medicine to prevent or treat HIV). This situation gave HIV the brand as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). However, other ways to get HIV are through sharing syringes or any injection drug equipment, mother-to-child blood transmission during pregnancy, and breastfeeding.
AIDS, on the other hand, stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. It is the late stage of HIV when the virus is left untreated, and it already has severely damaged the body’s immune system.
How should I know if I have HIV or AIDS?
This question is tricky, but the answer is extremely straightforward. If you think you can be exposed to the virus, the only thing you can do to know if you have it or not is to get tested. There are now so many hospitals and non-government organizations that offer free HIV screenings that would conceal your identity and will not invade your privacy. All you have to do is go and present yourself to their office and provide them with the necessary specimen that they need.
What to do with the HIV findings
- If you test positive, you can take medicine to treat HIV. People with HIV who take HIV medicine daily as prescribed can live a long and healthy life and prevent transmission to others. Without HIV medicine (called antiretroviral therapy or ART), the virus replicates in the body and damages the immune system. This fact is why people need to start treatment as soon as possible after testing positive.
- If you test negative, there are several ways to prevent getting HIV. Read on to know more information.
- If you are pregnant, you should be tested for HIV so that you can begin treatment if you are HIV-positive. The objective is that an HIV-positive woman is treated for HIV early in her pregnancy, the risk of transmitting HIV to her baby can be very low.
What are the symptoms of HIV or AIDS?
Because AIDS is the late-stage of HIV infection, the symptoms of AIDS is very similar to the signs and symptoms of HIV. Knowing what an HIV positive patient feels during his or her early stages of infection can help prevent the advancement of the disease to AIDS.
There are three stages that an HIV infection can have:
First stage HIV symptoms
During the first few weeks of being infected with HIV, a patient may feel flu-like symptoms. These include:
- Night sweats
- Muscle pains
- Sore throat
- Fatigue or body weakness
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth ulcers
However, there are also those patients who do not show signs or feel symptoms during their first weeks or months of getting infected. What is alarming is that people tend to ignore these signs and just consider them as regular flu, or be in denial of the truth that they may be candidates to have HIV. What we can advise is that you have to be honest with yourself. If you know that you may be at risk of getting exposed to the virus, and you feel these symptoms, get tested as soon as possible. We have to reiterate that getting diagnosed during the early stages of the infection may not necessarily cure you, but will limit your infection and slow down the progression of the disease.
Second stage HIV symptoms
The first-stage symptoms of HIV still continue during this stage, as the disease progresses and the virus multiplies in the body of the patient. Such a condition is later considered the clinical latency period of chronic HIV infection. The symptoms may come and go during this period, and some patients would say that they do not feel anything wrong with their bodies for the next 10 to 15 years. However, for some patients who did not take any medication to fight the infection, the advancement of HIV to symptoms of AIDS happens much faster.
Those whose chronic HIV infection causes symptoms, they report that their body became easy targets for other diseases. During their battle against AIDS, their immune system falters, and they become attacked by pneumonia, yeast infections, digestive conditions, and others.
Late-stage HIV: Symptoms of AIDS
When AIDS occurs, your body’s immune system has already been severely damaged. You will be more likely to develop aggressive and exploitative infections or different types of cancers. These diseases are the types that a healthy person can fight off, but because you have compromised immunity, they can easily attack your body with your defences down.
The signs and symptoms of AIDS would depend on what type of associated infection the body has been combating with. These may include:
- Night sweats
- Chronic or on-and-off fever
- Persistent diarrhea
- Swollen and painful lymph nodes (around the armpits, neck, and groin areas)
- White spots or weird lesions on the tongue or in the mouth
- Persistent, unexplained fatigue
- Overall muscle weakness
- Unexplained rapid weight loss
- Skin rashes or bumps
- Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders
Again, these symptoms may be present with other health problems, and they are not necessarily tied down as just symptoms of AIDS or HIV. What we advise is for you to get tested so that you can be sure that you know what medical condition you may be having if you have these physical complaints. This is also a way for you to know what to do in order to treat them as soon as possible.